Category Archives: Apologetics

“Quod scripsi, scripsi.”

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“What I have written, I have written. (Quod scripsi, scripsi.)” Those were the words of Pontius Pilate after directing that a sign be affixed to Jesus of Nazareth’s cross. On it was inscribed, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews,” written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The Jews protested, saying that the sign ought to read, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” But Pilate would not be moved.

The sign Pilate authorized didn’t reflect his own beliefs about Jesus. As prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, he certainly didn’t have the authority or the desire to proclaim anyone king. He did, however, wish to send a message: This is what happens to pretended kings. For those who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah King, the placard proclaimed the Truth. For the Jews who didn’t believe, it was an insult and a warning. For Pilate, it was a useful tool to send a message.

If, centuries later, Pilate’s sign were the only record in existence about Jesus, we could still deduce a few things about the One Who hung on a cross at Calvary: His name was Jesus; He was from the town of Nazareth; and His execution was the result of a controversy over His kingship. Despite its intended purpose to ridicule, to warn, and maybe even to incite anger, the sign still says something true about the events that led up to Calvary. Pontius Pilate’s sign, therefore, is a hostile witness.

The Praise of Enemies

The Psalm says, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have perfected praise, because of Your enemies” (Ps. 8:2 LXX). Not only do the righteous praise Christ because of His enemies, but His enemies offer their own kind of praise. Their praise doesn’t come in the form of a compliment or some other sort of honor; it comes from the simple admission of the truth. Pilate affirmed the truth when his involvement in Jesus’ condemnation unwittingly produced the inscription. And that’s the curious thing about some of the historic enemies of the Church. When they were confronted with something about Christ or his Church that was too obvious to deny, they were forced to do one of two things: either concede the point and repackage it to suit their own purposes, or attempt to explain it away. Regardless of which action they took, the result remains the same: They still attest that they’ve encountered something about Christ or his Church that was real and needed to be dealt with. In other words, they attest to the Truth.

We call these unwitting corroborators of the truth hostile witnesses. They are, as the phrase suggests, witnesses who were hostile to Christ, his Church, or some aspect of his Church. Their testimonies are the best kind of evidence because they can’t be said to reflect bias in favor of the Faith or the Church—quite the opposite, in fact. Yet despite their probative value, these hostile testimonies haven’t been plumbed for all they are worth.

Direct and Indirect Evidence

Christian apologists naturally focus most of their attention on direct evidence in favor of their beliefs drawn from primary source material such as the New Testament, the early Church fathers, and a few extra-biblical sources. But indirect evidence can attest just as powerfully to a given fact or event.

Hostile witnesses sometimes provide direct evidence. They may speak directly about Jesus, where He lived, what He did, how and when He died, and so on. This information is very valuable. Indeed, “historical Jesus” research focuses almost exclusively on such statements. The real value of hostile witnesses, however, is when they provide indirect evidence. When confronted with some brute fact that was contrary to their belief system, they are forced to deal with it, and their evasive actions signal to us some truth about Christ and his Church that they are attempting to avoid.

It is true that direct evidence usually provides more detail about a certain fact or event than indirect evidence. The latter is like the shadows cast by an illumined figure—by themselves, they reveal little more than the figure’s broad outline. But something remarkable occurs when the figure and its shadow are viewed together: a fuller, more three-dimensional figure emerges. Such is the effect of studying direct and indirect evidence about Christ and His Church—including hostile testimony.

Apologetic Value

Studying Christ and His Church through the eyes of their enemies also has a practical benefit. Many of these opponents speak to issues that weren’t raised until centuries after they lived. In such cases, their value is doubled because they can’t be accused of harboring a bias; even if they were hostile to the Faith they had no knowledge of these future issues. Here’s an example: In modern times it became popular to claim that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. The pagan Roman historian Tacitus had no notion of this claim. His concern was to write about the persecutions under Nero. If Jesus was just a mythical figure fabricated by Christians, Tacitus would have had every reason to point it out—but he didn’t. Instead, he speaks about Jesus as someone who actually lived and was executed under Pontius Pilate—confirming that Jesus was no myth. Another example: a pagan graffito found in a building on Rome’s Palatine Hill, estimated to have been made around A.D. 200, depicts a man named Alexamenos worshipping a donkey-headed man crucified on a cross. What the ancient graffitist couldn’t have known is that centuries later a group called the Jehovah’s Witnesses would claim that Jesus was executed on a stake, not a cross. But this pagan’s attempt to mock Christianity provides evidence that they are wrong. Both Tacitus and the pagan graffitist, then, though hostile toward Christ and his Church, inadvertently vindicated certain truths about Christianity.

More to the Story

These historic foes of the Church also make wonderful allies when it comes to combating historic anti-Catholic and anti-Christian myths that have taken root in our time. Many of these myths are so thoroughly ingrained in the popular imagination that it is difficult to debunk them. The reason for this difficulty is that these myths provide simplistic, two-dimensional and easy-to-grasp explanations of complex events.

Here is where hostile testimony can be particularly effective. Hostile witnesses can be called upon in argument to give bite-sized counter-evidence that raises the possibility that the myth isn’t telling the whole story. For example, if someone asserts that the Crusades were genocidal attempts to forcibly convert all Jews and Muslims, they first have to explain the testimonies of the Muslim chronicler Ibn Jubayr and Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn, who speak otherwise. Again, if someone asserts that the Inquisition was a murderous tool of the Church that killed millions of innocent people, you can call to its defense the former inquisitor Llorente, who had an ax to grind against his former employer, or even a hostile letter to the pope written by King Ferdinand of Spain.

Thus, the main purpose of invoking testimony of hostile witnesses is to show that there is more to certain assertions about Church history than what most people have been led to believe. Since their hostility toward the Faith makes it impossible to dismiss their statements as Catholic propaganda, hostile testimony is able to cut through the facade of these anti-Catholic and anti-Christian myths, and opens the door for further investigation.

Laying a Foundation

Hostile Witnesses contains a veritable rogues’ gallery of the historic opponents of the Faith, beginning with those recorded in the New Testament. In many ways, this initial layer of hostile testimonies serves as a baseline for later ones. By reviewing them chronologically, it’s possible to see how certain assertions and accusations evolved over time. Cross-references are included to help the reader see these connections as the book progresses.

After the fourth century, our attention turns from individual witnesses to topics and events such as the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the miracles at Lourdes, and events connected with the two world wars. These parts provide counter-evidence to various myths and slanders about the Church, and show how it survives with the same supernatural vigor that it had in its earliest centuries.

Questions Unasked

One oddity that will appear over and over again is the hostile witness’s inability to ask the obvious questions. They will supply all sorts of explanations and excuses to explain some aspect of Christianity that they’ve encountered, but they rarely ask why. Questions like: Why does the name Jesus heal? Why do Christians work miracles? Why are people following a dead leader? As these unasked questions begin to accumulate, an unexpected picture begins to emerge from the murk of their anti-Christian and anti-Catholic vitriol. At first it is difficult to make out, but it is there, lurking between the lines of their discourses, buried under their insults, and hiding behind their obfuscations. We have only to uncover it by asking the questions they chose not to.  (Amen.  Praise Him!!!)

Q. The concept for this book is different than any other Catholic apologetics resource out there. Where did it come from?

A. The idea started years ago while researching Church history. Every now and then I would stumble across a hostile quote or some other item that made me think, “Wow! That person just conceded a very important point,” or “This person doesn’t realize it, but he is inadvertently affirming something that anti-Catholics deny.” As these quotes accumulated, it dawned on me that putting these testimonies together in a book would not only be a fascinating read, it could prove to be an incredibly powerful apologetic tool that—to the best of my knowledge—has never been done on this scale.

Q. What is a “hostile witness” when it comes to talking about apologetics?

A. The term hostile witness is usually used in law courts, but the book uses it in its plain sense—namely, someone or something that is hostile or antagonistic to the Faith and yet bears witness to some truth about Christianity. In this sense, a hostile witness could be someone like the emperor Julian the Apostate, who tried to undermine and destroy Christianity; or King Ferdinand of Spain, who opposed papal interventions during the Spanish Inquisition but generally was a good Catholic. Hostile testimony also comes in other forms, such as a marble table known as the Nazareth Inscription or ancient anti-Christian graffiti or even Egyptian magical incantations. Each of these things reveals some truth about Christ and his Church in their own way. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions.

Q. You go through a pretty significant number of hostile witnesses in the book. Which grouping of witnesses gives the best evidence from an apologetic standpoint?

A. We cover testimonies from the New Testament era all the way through to World War II. What’s beautiful about this book is that its usefulness isn’t restricted to one subject. It has many different applications in several different apologetics fields. If you’re talking to skeptics or atheists, the earliest evidence will be very helpful in establishing things like the bona fides of miracles, Christ as a real historical person, the truth of the Resurrection, and debunking mythicists views, just to name a few. There is material that can be helpful in Christian-Jewish dialogues. Later in the book, chapters are dedicated to periods that are often misunderstood, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and even the myth of “Hitler’s pope.”

Q. With the large number of Protestant denominations and world religions out there, would it be fair to say that the number of hostile witnesses continues to grow every day?

A. I think that’s a fair statement. In fact, there were a lot of testimonies that had to be left out because they were too recent. I wanted to provide testimony where people died without recanting their statements so that we know what they wrote was their frank and unadulterated position.

Q. What apologetic points are strengthened most often by the testimony of these “Hostile Witnesses”?

A. It’s common today to reduce Christ to an idea shaped by opinion or view his Church as a mere personal preference. Using Scripture and the early Father fathers are helpful in dispelling these misconceptions, but the testimonies of hostile witnesses do something more. These historic enemies of the Christ and the Church were not dealing with an opinion or a lifestyle preference; they were dealing with what was for them a real concrete problem, a historical reality that they could neither ignore nor avoid. The best they could do was to attempt to dismiss it, paint it in the worst possible light, or explain it away. In this way, Hostile Witnesses strengthens practically every field in Christian and Catholic apologetics.

Q. You mention in the book that Hostile Witnesses surprised even you, the author. How so?

A. My original intent for Hostile Witnesses was to propose a new approach in Catholic and Christian apologetics and I believe the book does that. However, once all the testimonies were gathered and I began to read them through as a whole, I noticed something amazing. In fact, it almost knocked me off my seat. When you view Christ and his Church through the concessions of his enemies, a new and exciting picture emerges, not unlike, I imagine, the first time the Shroud of Turin was viewed as a photo negative. New features that were not very noticeable before (because they had become so commonplace) suddenly come to life. These testimonies show that something explosive and astounding happened in first century Judea surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and that the supernatural character of that event continues with the same vitality and vigor in the Church through the ages up to today. Many of the hostile witnesses tried to dismiss it. Some even tried to eradicate it. But in the end, their opposition only serves to highlight the supernatural character of Christ and his Church.

Q. How would you recommend using this resource when it comes to explaining the Catholic Faith to non-Catholics?

A. There’s an old Jewish saying, “a fool jumps into a well and a hundred wise men are needed to bring him out.” It is so much easier to raise an objection than answer it. Someone could make a remark about “The Inquisition” or the crusades in a sentence or two, but it would take an hour long lecture to explain why they are wrong. Hostile testimony can prove to be a short and effective rejoinder. For example, if someone says that the crusades were a genocidal attack by Christians to wipe out Islam and take over their lands, you could respond like this: “Really? Why did Ibn Jubayr – a devout Muslim with decidedly anti-Christian views – say that Muslims in Christian occupied lands were treated more justly and given more liberty than those in Muslim occupied territories?” Or if someone says that Pope Pius XII was silent against the Nazi regime, you could reply: “Why did Reinhard Heydrich’s office issue a communiqué stating the Pope attacked everything that the National Socialists stood for?” As you can see, hostile testimony won’t give the whole picture or a complete defense of a subject, but it is incredible helpful for exposing the fact that the objector hasn’t been told the whole story and that can be an opening for further discussions.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Why God still matters…

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-by Karlo Broussard

“Have you noticed how some of the New Atheists don’t even bother trying to disprove God’s existence? Your arguments in favor of God don’t even deserve a reply, they say, because not only does God not exist—He doesn’t even matter.

We don’t need God to explain the universe, they say. We don’t need Him to be moral or happy. And we don’t need Him to guide us or help figure things out—science can take care of that. Take away the need for God, they conclude, and the human urge to believe in Him disappears.

Q. Why do most atheists think that there necessarily has to be a conflict between faith and science?

A. One reason is because they [mistakenly] think science is the only rational form of inquiry, making all theological explanations unworthy of a rational person. Second, they think science is sufficient to explain the universe, thus booting any necessity for God out when it comes to explaining the universe.

Q. What’s the most effective way to show a non-believer that God does still matter?

A. In the DVD, I show that God matters because without Him we wouldn’t exist. That of course requires a proof for God’s existence, which I provide. I also think we can show the absurdity of rejecting God’s existence. If God doesn’t exist, then complete and perfect happiness is impossible, in which case life is absurd. Moreover, if God doesn’t exist, then there can be no moral obligation. By the showing the absurdities that atheistic “logic” leads to, unbelievers may come to reconsider their rejection of God.

Q. How does the rejection of God undermine objective morality?

A. It doesn’t necessarily undermine an objective knowledge of what is good and bad for human beings. This is something we can know given our human nature. Nature directs us to certain ends, the achievement of which is good and the frustration of which is bad. But the rejection of God does undermine the moral obligation to follow the ordering of human nature. If the dictates of human nature do not express the will of the Supreme Being, then there can be no obligation to follow it. How can there be any obligation to follow the natural moral law if there is no lawgiver behind it?

Q. You say that, without God, life falls into absurdity. Can you explain?

A. Why do we do the things we do? For the sake of happiness! [Ed.  this is where the Catholic argument begins.  If you ask anyone, “Aren’t we supposed to be happy?  They would immediately say, ‘Yes!’  Without the ‘Yes!’ to innately desiring and knowing happiness is supposed to be our natural state, and rejecting any state, plainly, which is less than that, is where the Catholic argument begins.  To intentionally, soberly desire less than happiness, is to exhibit unhealthy emotional symptoms.  The desire for happiness is rational, reasonable, possible, real, human, us.]  It [happiness] is the one thing we can’t [directly] choose, but everything else is chosen for the sake of it [happiness; to get to happiness].

Now, there are some desires we have as human beings that can be satisfied without God and thus experience happiness to a certain extent. The unbeliever can experience sensory pleasure, success and achievement, and the joy of loving relationships. [These may give pleasure for a period of time, but their satisfaction illusory; it fades.  We are still left hungry.  They DO NOT satisfy finally, in a complete way, which we deeply, deeply desire, hunger for, and NEED!!]

There are some desires, however, that can’t be satisfied without God—namely, the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge, love, goodness or justice, and beauty. Only God can satisfy these desires, because only God is infinite knowledge, love, goodness, and beauty itself. So, without God, it is impossible to be completely satisfied as a human being. We would be condemned to a life of perpetual dissatisfaction, which constitutes the absurdity of life.”

Love, faith, hope, truth,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura? produces bad fruit, namely disunity & division

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-by Joel Peters

“If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then it should be expected that Protestants would all be in agreement in terms of doctrine, as the Bible could not simultaneously teach contradictory beliefs. And yet the reality is that there are literally thousands (35) of Protestant sects and denominations, each of which claims to have the Bible as its only guide, each of which claims to be preaching the truth, yet each of which teaches something different from the others. Protestants claim that they differ only in non-essential or peripheral matters, but the fact is that they cannot even agree on major doctrinal issues such as the Eucharist, salvation, and justification – to name a few.

For instance, most Protestant denominations teach that Jesus Christ is only symbolically present in the Eucharist, while others (such as Lutherans and Episcopalians) believe that He is literally present, at least to some extent. Some denominations teach that once you are “saved” you can never lose your salvation, while others believe it is possible for a true Christian to sin gravely and cease being “saved.” And some denominations teach that justification involves the Christian’s being merely declared righteous, while others teach that the Christian must also grow in holiness and actually become righteous.

Our Lord categorically never intended for His followers to be as fragmented, disunited and chaotic as the history of Protestantism has been since its very inception. (36) Quite the contrary, He prayed for His followers: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us.” (John 17:21). And St. Paul exhorts Christians to doctrinal unity with the words, “One body and one Spirit… One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:4-5). How, then, can the thousands of Protestant denominations and sects all claim to be the “true Church” when their very existence refutes this claim? How can such heterodoxy and contradiction in doctrine be the unity for which Our Lord prayed?

In this regard, the reader should be reminded of Christ’s own words: “For by the fruit the tree is known.” (Matt. 12:33). By this standard, the historical testimony afforded by Protestantism demonstrates that the tree of Sola Scriptura is producing bad fruit.”

Love,
Matthew

35. By some estimates there are approximately 25,000 different Protestant denominations and sects. In the approximately 500 years since Protestantism’s origin with Martin Luther (usually dated at 1517), this number translates into an average of one new Protestant denomination or sect every week! Even if you take a conservative estimate of 10,000 denominations and sects, you still have a new one developing every 2 ½ weeks.

36. Even the original “Reformers” – Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli – did not agree on doctrinal matters and labeled each other’s teachings heretical.

St Thomas Aquinas on Islam

Taj Mahal Agra India

“[Muhammad] seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men.

As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity.

He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.

What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.

Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law.

It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly.” –Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG) 1, 6, 4.

Love,
Matthew

Pope to scientists: faith does not hurt science, it leads to greater truth

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Pope Francis receives a stethoscope from the President of the European Society of Cardiology, Fausto Pinto, as he attends the World Congress of the European Society of Cardiology Aug. 31 in Rome.

-by CAROL GLATZ, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
August 31, 2016

“VATICAN CITY – Because scientists can never be neutral in their research, they must not be tempted to suppress the truth and ignore the divine, Pope Francis told health care professionals.

“Openness to God’s grace, which comes through faith, does not weaken human reason, but rather leads it toward knowledge of a truth which is wider and of greater benefit to humanity,” he said Aug. 31 in an address to experts taking part in a world congress on cardiovascular research.

More than 32,000 professionals, including cardiologists, from 120 countries attended the weeklong gathering in Rome. Organized by the European Society of Cardiology, the annual congress seeks to exchange the latest and best practices in research and patient care.

Pope Francis, who traveled to the congress venue on the outskirts of the city, insisted that no one be denied proper medical attention and care.

By recognizing the full dignity of the human person, one can see that the poor, those in need and the marginalized should benefit from the care and assistance offered by public and private health sectors, he said.

“We must make great efforts to ensure that they are not ‘discarded’ in this culture, which promotes a ‘throwaway’ mentality,” he said.

Church teachings have always supported and underlined the importance of scientific research for human health and life, he said. “The church understands that efforts directed to the authentic good of the person are actions always inspired by God,” he said, and caring for the weak and infirm is part of God’s plan.

However, “we know that the scientist, in his or her research, is never neutral, inasmuch as each one has his or her own history, way of being and of thinking.

“Every scientist requires, in a sense, a purification; through this process, the toxins which poison the mind’s pursuit of truth and certainty are removed” in order to gain a greater understanding of reality, the pope said.

By being involved in healing physical illness, health care professionals have the opportunity to see “there are laws engraved within human nature that no one can tamper with, but rather must be ‘discovered, respected and cooperated with’ so that life may correspond ever more to the designs of the creator.”

That is why people of science should not let themselves succumb to “the temptation to suppress the truth.”

The pope told his audience that he appreciated their work, adding that “I, too, have been in the hands of some of you.”

At the end of his speech, the pope was presented with a stethoscope and a cross made from laminated marble heart-shapes.”

Job 38

Love & truth, praise Him! All you creatures of the Earth, praise Him! You stars of the sky, you heavenly bodies, praise Him, Who made you!!
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: idea of sola scriptura did not exist prior to 14th century

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-by Joel Peters

“As difficult a reality as it may be for some to face, this foundational doctrine of Protestantism did not originate until the 14th century and did not become widespread until the 16h century – a far, far cry time-wise from the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. This simple fact is conveniently overlooked or ignored by Protestants, but it can stand alone as sufficient reason to discard the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The truth that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura did not exist before John Wycliffe (forerunner of Protestantism) in the 14th century and did not become widespread until Martin Luther came along in the 16th century and began setting up his own “traditions of men” in place of authentic Christian teaching. The doctrine, therefore, not only lacks the historical continuity which marks legitimate Apostolic teaching, but it actually represents an abrupt change, a radical break with the Christian past.

Protestants will assert that the Bible itself teaches Sola Scriptura and therefore that the doctrine had its roots back with Jesus Christ. However, as we have seen [in prior posts on this subject], the Bible teaches no such things. The claim that the Bible teaches this doctrine is nothing more than a repeated effort to retroject this belief back into the pages of Scripture. The examination of historical continuity (or lack thereof) provides an indication whether or not a particular belief originated with Jesus Christ and the Apostles or whether it appeared somewhere much later in time. The fact is that the historical record is utterly silent on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura prior to the 14th century.”

Love,
Matthew

Navigating the Tiber

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-interview w/Devin Rose

Q. The Protestant’s Dilemma has been out for three years and sales are still strong. Do you hear a lot from people who have read the book?

A. Yes, I do, on a regular basis. Many times someone on Facebook has recommended the book to a friend, and I thank them in a comment, and another friend of theirs chimes in that the book was the deciding factor in them becoming Catholic. I’m always overjoyed when I hear this, and give thanks to God, because he is the one who is moving their hearts.

Q. What was your motivation for writing Navigating the Tiber?

A. Several years ago I was having frequent discussions at work during lunch with a Catholic friend of mine and two Protestant friends. My Catholic friend, George, was strong in his faith and knew some apologetic arguments but felt overwhelmed with how to go about talking to our Protestant friends. He lacked understanding about where their beliefs came from, their thought processes during our discussions, and the Protestant framework from which they viewed theology, Scripture, and history.

I realized I needed to do a brain dump to equip him with this understanding. By sitting together and having these apologetics discussions with our Protestant friends for years, he absorbed the knowledge he needed to become an able defender of the Faith. What if, I thought, I could communicate that same knowledge to others, equipping them to become apologists? I can’t sit next to them for years, but I can distill all that they need to know into a book. Navigating the Tiber is the result of that. It is the next best thing to being able to sit next to a skilled Catholic apologist.

Q. How important is it to know about the faith background of someone considering the Catholic Church before we engage him in dialogue?

A. It is essential. Otherwise you jump to wrong conclusions about what he believes and how to help him see the truth of Catholicism. But Protestantism is dizzyingly varied. Understanding even a handful of the most popular families of Protestant denominations takes a decent effort. I break these down in the book and give the short and sweet background so you’ll be able to place your Protestant friend loosely into one of the groups.

Q. A lot of people will say they “follow the Bible.” Is this something you can use in your favor when talking about the Catholic Church?

A. Absolutely. What you will help them see is that, while they think they follow the Bible, a layer exists in between: their interpretation of the Bible. I point out the strategies you can use to enable them to realize this fact and then to uncover the fact that their interpretation may be erroneous, since it has been built on traditions of Protestants who came before them.

Q. What is the best place to start when beginning a dialogue about the Faith?

A. Start where your Protestant friend is, but then move him to the root issues: authority, the Bible alone, apostolic succession, Tradition, the canon of Scripture. This strategy is the central focus in Navigating the Tiber. Any dialogue involves a back and forth; your friend will want to go down a rabbit trail; you can follow him for a time, but then draw him back to the important issues.

Q. Are there any topics you should avoid when talking about the Faith?

A. Stick to doctrines and issues where the Church dogmatically teaches something one way or another. Avoid issues where opinions validly differ. For instance, you could talk for hours about the quality and value of contemporary Christian music. But pointing out the shallowness of many songs in this genre won’t win you many points with your Protestant friend, and it doesn’t get you any closer to the fundamental issues that divide you and him.

Q. You cover a lot of ground in your new book. Which Catholic teaching do you get the most push back on from non-Catholics?

A. Praying to the saints—especially Mary—is a tough pill to swallow for Protestants. It just feels so wrong to them. Even when the arguments are presented, there is a visceral feeling many of them have against accepting the communion of saints. This gut feeling—instilled in them since early in their lives by pastors, friends, and family—can’t just be argued away. In the book I help Catholics understand this dynamic and give tips on how to help them overcome the feeling.

Q. Along the same track, which anti-Catholic myth do you encounter most often?

A. Time and again I hear that Catholics worship Mary. It is the myth that just won’t die. This is another issue where you have to patiently explain that it is not true, why it’s not true, and then listen for the inevitable objections to follow. It is an opportunity to explain the difference between Catholics and Protestants in regard to prayer, the act of kneeling, and so on. For many Protestants, kneeling equates with worship. But just because a Catholic kneels does not mean he is worshiping something. You must also point out the difference between asking a saint to pray to God for you versus the erroneous notion that we pray to a saint as if they were God himself.

Q. What are the most common misconceptions that people have about the Catholic Church?

A. Many Protestants think that Catholics don’t read the Bible and that they just blindly follow the pope and whatever the Church says. This is an opportunity to discuss the interplay between faith and reason, the concept of “thinking with the Church.” Thinking with the Church is still thinking! But instead of looking for the first opportunity to assert one’s opinion against the Church’s teachings, the Catholic believes with faith that God protects the Church from error and so seeks to understand why it teaches what it does.

Q. Who do you think is more difficult to talk to about the Faith—an ex-Catholic, or someone who has no history with the Church?

A. Ex-Catholics are generally tougher. Their upbringing in Catholicism, especially if nominal, has sadly given them an inoculation against the Catholic Church. They think they know what Catholicism is when usually they have many misconceptions. Several times someone has begun a conversation with me by saying, “You know, I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church.” Being an altar boy is proof in his mind of being super-Catholic. Someone with no history may have general biases against Catholicism from our country’s secular society, but he won’t have the same antipathy toward it as someone who has left the Church.

Excerpts from the text:

Medieval Madness: The Inquisition

Along with the Crusades, the Inquisition is often the second part of a historical one-two punch that some Protestants like to throw at the Church. The Inquisition is much more likely than the Crusades to rub Evangelicals the wrong way. To them, the Inquisition was a tool to persecute Protestants (and proto-Protestants), silencing them so that the Catholic Church could keep its stranglehold on Christianity.

Having a ready defense for the Inquisition is thus even more important than for the Crusades. You need to show your friend that he has likely imbibed several myths about them—how many people were actually killed for instance—and also that his understanding of the time period is anachronistic.

Since it’s possible that your friend has a particularly jaundiced view of the Inquisition, it’s best to tread carefully. For starters, you should simply ask him what he thinks the Inquisition was. Then ask what he thinks it proves about the Catholic Church. Most likely, he will answer that through the Inquisition’s ecclesiastical courts the Catholic Church executed tens of thousands to millions of heretics, demonstrating that the Catholic Church is oppressive and evil, not allowing people free thought and religious choice.

Setting the Record Straight

Your goal here is one of education and gentle correction. The Inquisition—a broad term for a number of regional inquisitions over a long period during the middle ages—did consist of ecclesiastical courts that investigated and tried people for religious offenses. And yes, some of those people were then put to death by the state. But the numbers are wildly exaggerated in both the secular and Protestant imagination. No one knows exactly how many people were executed via the Inquisition, but the best historians agree that the number is in the thousands, probably not even reaching 10,000—certainly not millions or even hundreds of thousands. This will not immediately change your friend’s opinion of the Inquisition, but establishing that it was nowhere near as bloody as popularly claimed is important groundwork.

Many Protestants, especially Americans, are so used to separation of church and state that they can’t imagine heresy being treated as a criminal offense. You can remind your friend that during the centuries in which the Inquisition operated, religious belief was considered not just a private ecclesial matter but something that affected society as a whole. Egregious heresy could pose a danger to the public order. Consequently, church and state sometimes worked together—not just in Catholic countries but, after the Reformation, in Protestant ones too—to root out such dangers.
One group of heretics called the Cathars, for instance, arose in France in the twelfth century. They believed that the material world was evil, claimed it was created not by God but by an evil being who was equal and comparable to God. God himself was pure spirit, they asserted, so they denied that Jesus Christ could be God incarnate.

Further, the Cathars were aggressively opposed to the sacraments (including marriage), Church authority, the feudal government (by refusing to take oaths), and they promoted ritual suicide. Obviously, such beliefs are completely incompatible with Church doctrine, and they posed a threat to the stability of society. Catharism and Christianity could not peacefully coexist (nor would this have been a good thing even if possible, given the grave errors of this heresy). The Inquisition was one way in which France and the Church stamped out Catharism and restored public order, but the Church also tried reconciling them back to the true Faith through pastoral means by, such as sending missionaries like St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Dominic.

It is important to point out that the question of the Inquisition concerns disciplinary matters in the Church and does not touch anything of the Church’s doctrine. Your friend may try to argue that the Inquisition calls into question the Church’s infallibility, but this is simply not the case. The Church since the very beginning has had to deal with heresies and those who promote them. The ways, whether good or bad, that it did this never affected the Church’s dogmas one way or the other—they were merely the means by which the Church has enforced canonical penalties. Sometimes Church leaders wrongly disciplined people—it happened and still happens today—but that fact does not impugn the Church’s infallibility, which only covers its teachings on matters of faith and morals.

Another consideration to bring up is that the means used by the Inquisition, which occasionally did result in execution by the state and a limited form of torture, were methods common to the larger civilization at the time. Western society today has little appetite for such means, but it would be wrong of us to impose that modern standard back onto history. And besides, even in its use of such means the Inquisition was generally temperate, merciful, and legally fastidious—usually much more so than the secular courts. Its purpose was not to cause suffering but to bring people back into communion with the Faith.  (Ed. better to suffer mild discomfort, relatively, in this life, and come to one’s senses, than to suffer eternal damnation.)

If your friend comes from a Reformed tradition, it bears mentioning that the early Protestants did not hesitate to use coercion and even impose capital punishment on those who disagreed with them. Philip Schaff, the respected Protestant historian, wrote:

To the great humiliation of the Protestant churches, religious intolerance and even persecution unto death were continued long after the Reformation. In Geneva the pernicious theory was put into practice by state and church, even to the use of torture and the admission of the testimony of children against their parents, and with the sanction of [Protestant Reformer John] Calvin. Bullinger, in the second Helvetic Confession, announced the principle that heresy could be punished like murder or treason.

The first Protestants sometimes executed those who disagreed with them, even fellow Protestants. In England, after Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church and especially during the reign of his daughter Elizabeth I, countless Catholic priests and laypeople were arrested, tortured, and executed, their lands and property confiscated by the state. During this period, priests risked their lives to minister to the “recusant” Catholics who refused to assent to the new Protestant religion. And so if historically using force to quell perceived heresy makes for false Christianity, then not only Catholicism but Protestantism must be rejected as false.

All this said, whatever abuses that were committed by the Inquisition should not be excused. Ideally the ecclesiastical judges would always have been holy men, wise and concerned with the salvation of the defendant’s soul. And this was the case the vast majority of the time. But sometimes it was not, and human prejudices overrode authentic Christian judgment. But as with the Crusades, the sins of some do not make the whole Inquisition an evil thing, or still less invalidate the truth of Catholic teachings.

Indeed, though it’s important to discuss if your friend brings it up, the Inquisition is a peripheral issue to the central questions of authority between you and your Protestant friend. As soon as you can, try to move past it to more essential topics, ones that bear directly on the decision to be Protestant or Catholic. Do your best to quickly dispel the vague propaganda that your friend has no doubt heard and uncritically accepted, and then suggest moving forward to the next discussion.

Introducing the Church Fathers

Your Protestant friend has may have never heard of the Church Fathers (I certainly hadn’t when I was a Protestant). These were faithful and influential Christians teachers, pastors, and leaders who taught and defended the Faith from the late first century through the sixth. Many, though not all, are considered saints by the Catholic Church.

Given the impasse some Protestants face about how to interpret the Bible on baptism, it makes sense to start with that topic and bring in other evidence. And though your friend may not know much about the Fathers, he will likely be favorably disposed to hearing what the early Christians believed, since (especially with the Fathers of the first couple of centuries) there wouldn’t have been much time for the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to have been corrupted. So, what did these early Christians have to say about baptism?

The Church Fathers on Baptism

Start by sharing with your friend what St. Justin Martyr wrote about baptismal regeneration in the middle of the second century:

“I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.

They then are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water….The reason for this we have received from the apostles.

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

Notice how Justin explains that baptismal regeneration remits our sins but also reveals that this teaching was received from the apostles. Justin was born around the time of the St. John’s death, so many Christians of his era still had living memories of the apostles themselves.

Another great Church Father from the second century who witnessed to the truth of baptismal regeneration was St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, a disciple of St. Polycarp who himself was a disciple of St. John. Irenaeus pulls no punches in pointing out that to deny baptism’s regenerating effects is to renounce the entire Christian faith.

“And when we come to refute them [i.e. those heretics], we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.”

This is only a small selection. Both of these saints wrote even more about baptismal regeneration, as did other Church Fathers and early Christians in the second century. Once we get to the third century, the writings that support baptismal regeneration multiply. This early Christian witness to baptismal regeneration is unanimous. If this teaching were heretical and contradicted the apostles, you would expect at least a few leaders in the early Church to have stood up in protest of it, but not a single one does—or even offers an alternative interpretation for the relevant verses.

Present this historical evidence to your friend and give him time to respond. But be careful: the Church Fathers are Catholic to the core, and their writings contain many teachings that simply aren’t reconcilable with Protestant doctrine. You’ll want to introduce them to your friend gently and give him time to absorb the evidence they provide for the Catholic Church.

Some Protestants put little stock into what ancient Christians wrote, unless it is explicitly contained in the New Testament itself, so your friend may simply dismiss these writings. He may propose that they’re forgeries or that they represent a misleading sample of what the early Christians. You can patiently explain that even Protestant historians accept these works as genuine and as representative of what was being taught in the early Church. It’s not totally impossible that they represent a minority view, that other early Christians were teaching doctrines in agreement with modern Protestantism, but the simple fact is there’s no existing evidence that there were.

Two Protestants You Will Meet

Honestly, being a Catholic apologist has its downsides. One is that people feel they can email you out of the blue with a list of arguments against the Catholic Church and then demand you respond. Over the years I’ve received many such emails, some rudely written, others genuinely seeking answers. One upside to these messages, though, is that they give me insight into a broad swath of Protestant Christians and the varied obstacles that they face. I have noticed that many of those Protestants resemble one of two types: the Certain Guy and the Robot

The Holy Spirit Certainty Guy

Charles was a Protestant who emailed me, describing something of his history as a Christian: going from one denomination to another many times over the years as his beliefs changed and he decided his current church was in error.

His meanderings had finally made him wonder if, perhaps, Catholicism was what it claimed to be. “Maybe there is a true Church?” he asked. When a Protestant comes to this question on his own, it is a wonderful thing. It indicates an openness to the possibility that the whole Protestant paradigm may be mistaken; instead maybe God did preserve the Church from error.
In the second half of his email, however, Charles listed his chief objections to Catholicism, notably the Church’s beliefs about Mary. Charles ended by saying:

I am a Christian struggling with the dilemma of where to gather among other Christians to worship God—but the issue of praying to Mary is a stumbling block, or should I rather say, heresy in my opinion, which I regard as equal to idolatry and which will keep me very far away from the Roman Catholic Church.

Charles’s candor was refreshing. He said very directly that he could not imagine becoming Catholic due to what he saw as heresy. In my response, I gently nudged him with questions about how he knew what Christ and the apostles taught and how he knew that his interpretation of Scripture was accurate. I also gave evidence for the perpetual virginity of Mary and the intercession of the saints. I kept it to a few paragraphs and waited for his response.

Charles opened his reply thanking me for my email, but then he said “However, I am still completely unconvinced by your reasoning—and I know that I indeed do have the Holy Spirit who leads me into all truth and he is not leading me to believe what you have suggested.”
Ah, there it was! He believed that he had the Holy Spirit and read John 16:13 to mean that the Spirit will lead him individually into all truth. He was sure that the Holy Spirit was showing him that I was in error and that he was not.

Striking At the Root

When you encounter the Certainty Guy, you could you could respond to his impregnable certainty with an equally confident assertion, as I did: “I also have the Holy Spirit and am unconvinced by your reasoning, so we are at an impasse. Further, Martin Luther and John Calvin believed they had the Holy Spirit, and they rebutted other Protestants who held the same interpretation that you did about Mary’s perpetual virginity. So our impasse deepens.”

In this brief exchange we exposed the fundamental problem of Protestantism. He claims he’s right because he has the Holy Spirit. I claim that I’m right for the same reason. And according to Protestantism, no person or church or institution can adjudicate our competing claims. In any dialogue with a Protestant it is important to reach this point, so that your friend can realize the unresolvable dilemma that his beliefs create.

Charles emailed back telling me that he “does not arrogantly pick and choose” his beliefs as I suggested. Of course, I never claimed that his choosing was done in arrogance, only that he was indeed picking and choosing: picking which issues were essential versus non-essential, and choosing what to believe on each of those issues. Even if he did not do it arrogantly, the fact remained that he was doing it, and that under Protestantism’s paradigm he had no choice but come up with an individual belief on every issue he came across.

It is instructive that even though I said nothing about him acting arrogantly or capriciously in choosing his beliefs, Charles inferred that I made such an accusation. Misunderstandings like this occur often in any discussion about beliefs. Faith abides deeply within us, and any perceived challenge to our beliefs can result in a defensive reaction, even if our discussion partner acts in a completely amiable way.

Our email exchange continued for a bit longer and wended toward the question of whether sola scriptura was true, but for our purposes here the main point has been shown. When you face Certainty Guy, who is absolutely confident in his interpretation of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, simply push back, without any rancor, that you can claim the same thing, and so reveal a conundrum.

The One-Way Street

About six months after my book The Protestant’s Dilemma was published, I received an email from a Protestant man (whom I’ll call Louis) directing me to his website where he was making a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal of my book. He was brief but respectful enough, so I went and checked it out. His was the first substantive attempt to rebut my arguments, so I was interested in what he had to say.

Unfortunately, his site had the look-and-feel of a Web 1.0, circa 1998 site hand-coded in basic html. Even though as a computer programmed I winced, I was able to ignore that, but since he was attempting a rebuttal one chapter at a time, I also had no way of knowing when he posted more updates for me to read.

I kindly emailed Louis and suggested he go with a standard blogging website, which would allow him to publish each of his rebuttal attempts as blog posts that I and others could subscribe to. He paid no attention to my suggestions and instead just kept sending me short emails, about once a day, that had a link in them to his argument web pages.
I figured that I would give him another chance to interact in a constructive way, so I went to one of his links, read his argument, then sent him an email rebutting the argument. In this particular case, he was denying that Mary was the mother of God. I explained why this title is valid, but he ignored my argument and sent me yet another link to his web page.

At that point I realized I was dealing with someone uninterested in interacting like a human being. Rather, like a machine he wanted to blast his arguments at me—whether they were sensible or not—and didn’t want to have a discussion. It was a one-way street. I called him out on this and said I would automatically filter his emails into the trash if he continued this robotic behavior. He immediately continued it, and I filtered his emails. The next day he emailed me from a different address!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Most Protestants, thankfully, are not robots like Louis. But some are, and possibly you will encounter one, whether virtually or in person. Keep in mind that you are not obligated to respond to them or to play by their (lopsided) rules. In my experience, interacting with such people goes nowhere, as they are not truly open to discussion and honest analysis of the arguments.

Instead, they are locked into existing beliefs that see Catholicism as apostate or heretical, and have one goal: to disseminate attacks against the Church in rapid-fire fashion.

And remember, even when people act in such exasperating ways, seek to forgive them. Pray for them—the best thing and often the only thing that you can do—and leave them in our Lord’s hands. You hope to see them and be with them in heaven one day, in spite of their errors and your own faults and weaknesses.”

Love & (the search for) Truth,
Matthew

A Universal Church has universal opinions….shocker!!!!

A 3d graphic of the words in the question What Do You Think? This could be used to encourage people to participate in a survey or poll and ask their opinion or

Some people are surprised, or scandalized, or relieved, or whatever, to learn Catholics have differing opinions from each other, ALL THE TIME!!!  Some of this results from inadequate, eighth grade level catechesis, at best, and even then of questionable quality, but exactly how many sublime and nuanced truths as contained in philosophy and theology can you really communicate to college students, let alone eighth graders?

My humble opinion is, with the elevated level of education on the part of the laity, the Church has relied too long on its old, old model of the ignorant and illiterate peasant farmer or such, Catholic, Catholic ghetto, immigrant getting off boat, train, etc., and making a bee-line for the rectory where the good Father, the only literate Catholic within miles, will secure housing, food, employment, etc. for said peasant.  See where priests get there historical power, besides the obvious?  Not a healthy, mature, relevant, sustaining, Christian, 21st century, empowered (and, I hate that word, as used in “corporate”) model, but, still.  We’re still using that ancient model.  The world HAS changed, and so have most Catholics; maybe not clergy, sharing power is a BITCH, like surrendering one’s divinity to become mortal, or even going to the Cross, out of love, but they are dependent on their bishop for everything, ok.  And, a bishop is dependent on Rome to even be called Catholic.

Granted, not every Catholic wishes to enter into post-graduate theological catechesis, or the relevant discussion therein implied.  However, this is where REAL answers begin to emerge.  Sorry, not sorry.

Some may be scandalized to realize Catholics are not a monolithic thought block.  We’re not.  Once formally declared as teaching of the Church, however, things become more linear, they do, or they should. This is pretty much where Luther, and other Reformation leaders, fell off the boat. Obedience is a virtue. No matter how right I think I am, I will NOT disobey Holy Mother Church. She is my mother, after all. Lord, have mercy on my soul. Please!!!!

However, anyhoo, even with THAT, Catholics would have raging differences of opinions on EVERYTHING.  It’s very Catholic.  As I have mentioned MANY times and places, asking questions, and I know I have a problem with asking questions and with the truth, I like them both TOO MUCH!  But, asking questions is VERY Catholic!!  Deo gratias!!

Trigger warning!!!  🙂  Let’s have an example!!!!  Yeah!!!

Q.  Do homosexual unions have moral value?  (No ez ones in my class!!  They’re boring, anyway. 🙂 )

matthewcullinanhoffman_avatar_1435256636
-by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

Kardinal_Reinhard_Marx
-Cardinal Marx

“According to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, homosexual relationships have “worth,” a worth that must be recognized by the Catholic Church.

“We have to respect the decisions of people,” Marx told the media last week in Dublin after delivering a speech at Trinity College, according to a recent report in the Irish Times.

“We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth,” he said.

Consequently, according to Marx, the Church owes homosexuals an apology for its historical treatment of homosexuals. “As Church and society, we have to say ‘Sorry, Sorry,’” Marx said. He added that the Church should support “regulating” homosexual partnerships. “We as church cannot be against it.”

Marx’s statements seem to fly in the face of repeated affirmations by some of the Catholic Church’s most authoritative documents, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls homosexual sexual acts “acts of grave depravity” which are “intrinsically disordered,” and “can never be approved.” They also contradict the Vatican’s 2003 instruction on homosexual unions, which forbids support for legal recognition for homosexual unions of any kind.

St. Peter Damian, a cardinal who wrote the most extensive treatment of the issue of homosexual unions in the Church’s history, also had a very different understanding of the value of homosexual relations from that of Cardinal Marx.

According to Damian’s work on the subject, the Book of Gomorrah, written in the 11th century in response to a plague of homosexual vice among priests and clergy, homosexual unions are in no way beneficial to their participants; to the contrary, they are utterly destructive to them, spiritually, psychologically and even physically, throwing them into an emotional and spiritual confusion that makes them subject to demonic manipulation.

Damian writes that “this vice, which surpasses the savagery of all other vices, is to be compared to no other. For this vice is the death of bodies, the destruction of souls, pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the intellect, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, introduces the diabolical inciter of lust, throws into confusion, and removes the truth completely from the deceived mind.”

Damian recognizes that the logic of homosexual vice leads to ever-more degrading and self-destructive acts, a reality confirmed by those who have come out of the gay lifestyle. The homosexual relationship “violates sobriety, kills modesty, slays chastity,” writes Damian. “It butchers virginity with the sword of a most filthy contagion. It befouls everything, it stains everything, it pollutes everything, and for itself it permits nothing pure, nothing foreign to filth, nothing clean.”

The homosexual relationship removes “the armaments of the virtues, and to strike them down, exposes them to the darts of every vice,” Damian writes, adding that it “removes the foundation of faith, enervates the strength of hope, breaks the tie of charity, destroys justice, undermines fortitude, banishes temperance, and blunts the sharpness of prudence. And what more shall I say? Since indeed it expels every cornerstone of the virtues from the court of the human heart, it also, as if the bolts of the doors have been removed, introduces every barbarity of the vices.”

Damian notes that individuals who involve themselves in homosexual relationships suffer from anxiety and other psychological disturbances, a fact that has been repeatedly confirmed by numerous peer-reviewed medical studies in recent decades.

Of those who participate in such relationships, Damian writes: “His flesh burns with the fury of lust, his frigid mind trembles with the rancor of suspicion, and chaos now rages hellishly in the heart of the unhappy man while he is vexed by as many worries as he is tortured, as it were, by the torments of punishment. Indeed, once this most poisonous snake has sunk its teeth into an unhappy soul, sense is immediately taken away, memory is removed, the sharpness of mind is obscured; it becomes forgetful of God, it forgets even itself.”

In some ways Damian seems to foresee the behavior of the modern homosexual movement. Using a metaphor that seems particularly appropriate, Damian refers to the homosexual lifestyle as “the queen of the sodomites,” who enslaves and degrades her victims, taking away their peace and instilling in them a frenetic obsession with pleasure. He also notes that those who involve themselves in such behavior feel compelled to draw others into the same wretchedness, by becoming homosexual “militants.”

“This most pestilent queen of the sodomites renders him who is submissive to the laws of her tyranny indecent to men and hateful to God,” Damian writes.

“In order to sow impious wars against God, she requires a militancy of the most wretched spirit,” he continues. “She separates the unhappy soul from the fellowship of the angels, removing it from its nobility to place it under the yoke of her own domination. She strips her soldiers of the armaments of the virtues, and to strike them down, exposes them to the darts of every vice. . . . She gnaws the conscience like worms, burns the flesh like a fire, and pants with desire for pleasure. But in contrast she fears to be exposed, to come out in public, to be known by others.”

In contrast to Cardinal Marx and other Catholic prelates who have recently advocated affirming homosexual relationships or tolerating them, Peter Damian writes that we must avoid the “cruel mercy” of staying silent in the face of evil, and even warns that we become the “murderer of another’s soul” if we do not speak against the immorality of their behavior.

“Who am I to watch such a noxious crime spreading among those in holy orders and keeping silent, to dare to await the accounting of divine punishment as the murderer of another’s soul, and to begin to be made a debtor of that guilt of which I had been by no means the author?” writes Damian, adding later, “For how am I loving my neighbor as myself, if I negligently allow the wound, by which I do not doubt him to be dying a cruel death, to fester in his soul? Seeing therefore the spiritual wounds, should I neglect to cure them by the surgery of words?”

St. Peter Damian’s words were well-received by Pope St. Leo IX, who said “everything that this little book contains has been pleasing to our judgment, being as opposed to diabolical fire as is water.” Today, however, Damian’s warnings are increasingly ignored by European and American prelates in favor of an indifferent and even benign understanding of the sin of sodomy.”

Love,
Matthew

Who needs Jesus? Really. Really? Really!!

Savior_jesus

I DO. As someone who suffers from MDD – Major Depressive Disorder, diagnosed in 1994, having had three major episodes, only medication and therapy having prevented more, and told I should expect at least six in my life, and takes daily meds and weekly therapy, I can relate. The experience is of excruciating emotional pain, laying on the couch not wanting to breathe, feeling the ground fall away from underneath your feet, moaning and writhing in a recliner at your in-laws. You just want the pain to stop. You don’t care how. You lose all perspective on how any decision you make will affect others. You just want the pain to stop. You don’t care how.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. (He does.) My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.” -Ps 28:7

Don’t take symptoms lightly. Get help. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that suicide rates in the U.S. spiked between 1994 and 2014. While women are less likely to kill themselves than men, their rate of suicide jumped by 80 percent over this period. But not all women are at risk.

A study released this week by JAMA Psychiatry, an American Medical Association journal, reported that “Frequent religious service attendance was associated with substantially lower suicide risk among U.S. women compared with women who never attended religious services.” To be exact, the researchers studied approximately 90,000 nurses, mostly women, and found that Catholic and Protestant women had a suicide rate that was half that for women as a whole.

Of the nearly 7,000 Catholic women who went to Mass more than once a week, NONE committed suicide. Overall, practicing Protestant women were seven times more likely to commit suicide than their Catholic counterparts, suggesting there really is a Catholic advantage. Indeed, the 2015 book, The Catholic Advantage, substantiates this finding.

Today, those without a religious affiliation have the highest suicide rates, illustrated most dramatically in San Francisco: someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death every two weeks. It is not the faithful who are waiting in line to jump—it’s the non-believing free spirits.

On a related note, Gallup released a survey yesterday (6/29/16) that shows approximately 9 in 10 Americans believe in God. But as we learned from the JAMA Psychiatry study, only those who regularly attend religious services are less likely to commit suicide.

In other words, mere belief, and amorphous expressions of spirituality, aren’t enough to ward off the demons that trigger suicide. And no group is more at risk than atheists.”

Freakonomics – Suicide

Internet Broadcast

-by Stephen J. Dubner

“Suicide rates in the U.S., they’re the highest they’ve been in 30 years.

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “The Suicide Paradox (Rebroadcast).” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

There are more than twice as many suicides as murders in the U.S., but suicide attracts far less scrutiny. Freakonomics Radio digs through the numbers and finds all kinds of surprises.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
* * *
Today we are playing an episode from our archives — an important episode, called “The Suicide Paradox.” We first put this out in 2011. Now, five years later, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen to their highest in 30 years, with suicide a particularly pressing problem in the military. We’ll be back next week with a new episode.
* * *
DAN EVERETT: There won’t be a word for college or professor, but I can say, “Tíi kasaagá Paóxaisi. Ti kapiiga kagakaibaaí.” And that just means, “my name is Paoxaisi, and I make a lot of marks on paper.”

Dan Everett is a college professor — a linguist. Off and on for the past 30 years, he’s lived with a tribe in the Amazon called the Piraha.

EVERETT: I originally went to the Piraha as a missionary to translate the Bible into their language, but over the course of many years, they wound up converting me, and I became a scientist instead and studied their culture and its effects on their language.
The Piraha live in huts, sleep on the ground, hunt with bows and arrows. But what really caught Everett’s attention is that they are relentlessly happy. Really happy.

EVERETT: This happiness and this contentment really had a lot to do with me abandoning my religious goals, and my religion altogether, because they seemed to have it a lot more together than most religious people I knew.

But this isn’t just another story about some faraway tribe that’s really happy even though they don’t have all the stuff that we have. It’s a story about something that happened during Everett’s early days with the tribe. He and his wife and their three young kids had just finished dinner. Everett gathered about 30 Piraha in his hut to preach to them:

EVERETT: I was still a very fervent Christian missionary, and I wanted to tell them how God had changed my life. So, I told them a story about my stepmother and how she had committed suicide because she was so depressed and so lost. (For the word “depressed” I used the word “sad”.) So she was very sad. She was crying. She felt lost. And she shot herself in the head, and she died. And this had a large spiritual impact on me, and I later became a missionary and came to the Piraha because of all of this experience triggered by her suicide. And I told this story as tenderly as I could and tried to communicate that it had a huge impact on me. And when I was finished everyone burst out laughing.
* * *
EVERETT: When I asked them, “why are you laughing?,” they said: “She killed herself. That’s really funny to us. We don’t kill ourselves. You mean, you people, you white people shoot yourselves in the head? We kill animals, we don’t kill ourselves.” They just found it absolutely inexplicable, and without precedent in their own experience that someone would kill themselves.
In the 30 years that Everett has been studying the Piraha, there have been zero suicides. Now, it’s not that suicide doesn’t happen in the Amazon – for other tribes, it’s a problem.

EVERETT: And as I’ve told this story, some people have suggested that, well it’s because they don’t have the stresses of modern life. But that’s just not true. There is almost 100 percent endemic malaria among the people. They’re sick a lot. Their children die at about 75 percent. Seventy-five percent of the children die before they reach the age of five or six. These are astounding pressures.

MUSIC: Matthew Reid, “Quietus” (from Courtyards and Fairgrounds)

A group of people that laughs at suicide? Doesn’t sound much like the U.S., does it? Suicide’s not a laughing matter here; and it’s not so rare, either. Now, compared to the rest of the world, our suicide rate puts us right about in the middle. But here’s what’s interesting. The U.S. is famous for a relatively high murder rate – it’s double, triple, even five times higher than most other developed countries. So if I said to you: what’s more common in the U.S., homicide or suicide, what would you say?

Listen to Steve Levitt, my Freakonomics friend and co-author, an economist at the University of Chicago. He’s been studying crime for years.
STEVE LEVITT: Homicides, per one hundred thousand, have fallen from something like ten to something like five over the 15 years I’ve studied crime. So essentially, homicide has fallen in half.

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: Wow, so let’s say it’s roughly five per hundred thousand people now, do you have any idea what the suicide rate is?
LEVITT: That’s about twice as high. It’s surprising because it doesn’t usually make the newspaper when someone commits suicide, but it always makes the newspaper when someone commits a homicide, but twice as many suicides as homicides.

It is surprising, isn’t it? The preliminary numbers for 2009, the most recent year for which we have data, show there were roughly 36,500 suicides in the U.S. and roughly 16,500 homicides. That’s well over twice as many suicides. So why don’t we hear more about it? Partly because, as Levitt says, most suicides don’t make the news, whereas murders do. But also: they’re different types of tragedy. Murder represents a fractured promise within our social contract, and it’s got an obvious villain. Suicide represents – well, what does it represent? It’s hard to say. It carries such a strong taboo that most of us just don’t discuss it much. The result is that there are far more questions about suicide than answers. Like: do we do enough to prevent it? How do you prevent it? And the biggest question of all: why do people commit suicide? Steve Levitt has one more question:

LEVITT: I always think to myself: why don’t more people commit suicide? If you think about the poorest people in the world surviving on less than a dollar a day, having to walk three miles to get water and carry 70-pound packs of water back just to survive, and those people do everything they can to stay alive. Whereas I think if I were in that situation, wouldn’t I just kill myself?
DUBNER: And what does that say to you about human nature that people in situations way, way, way, way, way worse off than you don’t kill themselves in large number?

LEVITT: My guess is that evolution has built in to us an unbelievable desire to stay alive, which when looked at from a modern perspective doesn’t actually make that much sense.

So how should we make sense of suicide? If you, personally, have been affected by suicide, if you’ve lost a friend or family member, it may be hard to even think about “making sense” of it. But, at the risk of shining a light into a darkness that’s usually left undisturbed, let’s give it a try. The first thing we need is a Virgil of some sort to guide us —someone who’s been thinking about suicide, and death, for a long, long time.
DAVID LESTER: I was born in 1942. I lived in London for 22 years of my life. And for the first three years of my life, my mother told me we slept in an air raid shelter every night.

David Lester is a professor of psychology at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, about 20 minutes from Atlantic City.

LESTER: The classic bomb that came over was called a buzz bomb because it was buzzing and that meant that the engine was going. Once it stopped buzzing it meant it would drop and maybe hit your house. My mother says that even as a toddler, I was very concerned about them. And actually she said that I would hear them before the air raid warnings went off, and I would warn everybody about a buzz bomb, and I would rush into the air raid shelter. Then 10 years ago, I remembered this picture of this little toddler who’s very worried about buzz bombs and hiding from them probably without a material concept of death, but obviously perhaps, laying the seeds of some interest that manifested itself later in life. I’ve become a thanatologist in general, and a suicidologist in particular.

Lester is president-elect of the American Association of Suicidology, and the eminence grise of suicide studies. He’s also alarmingly prolific — he’s written more than 2,500 papers, notes, and books, about half of which are on suicide. So people expect him to know things that he says are not yet known.

MUSIC: Abstract Aprils, “Parallels” (from Translucence)

LESTER: First of all, I’m expected to know the answers to questions such as why people kill themselves. And myself and my friends, we often, when we’re relaxing admit that we really don’t have a good idea of why people kill themselves.
So what do we know about suicide? As you drill down into the numbers, one thing that strikes you are the massive disparities — the difference in suicide rates by gender, by race and age, by location, by method and many other variables. In the U.S., for instance, men are about four times as likely to kill themselves as women.

LESTER: Yes, about three to four, yes.

About 56 percent of men use a gun, compared to just 30 percent of women.

LESTER: Yes, men tend to use what we would call more active methods.
That helps explain the gender gap, since suicide by gun is usually successful. The primary method for women is technically called “poisoning” – usually some kind of overdose.

LESTER: The easy access to medications these days makes medications an important method.
For men and women, being unmarried, widowed or divorced increases the risk. The most typical American suicide is a man 75 or older. But in that age bracket, where a lot of people are dying from a lot of things, suicide isn’t even a top 10 cause of death. For people from ages 25 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death. And it’s in the top five for all Americans from ages 15 to 54. In terms of timing, suicide peaks on Mondays:

LESTER: There is a blue Monday effect.
But not, as many people suspect, around Christmas and New Year’s.

LESTER: People do not kill themselves more on national holidays.
There is a seasonal spike, but it’s not in the long, dark days of winter.

LESTER: In fact, suicide rates peak in the spring in most countries. It’s as if you expect things are going to be better, and when they turn out not to be better, you’re more likely to be depressed in a suicidal way.

David Lester is willing to entertain any theory, to examine any pattern. Interestingly, he’s found that suicide and homicide are often perfectly out of synch with each other. Homicide spikes not on Mondays but on the weekends and on national holidays and during the summer and winter. Homicide is also much more common in cities than in rural areas; for suicide, it’s the opposite.

MATT WRAY: The American suicide belt is comprised of about 10 western states, this sort of wide longitudinal swath running from Idaho and Montana down to Arizona and New Mexico.
That’s Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple.

WRAY: To sum up what I do in a word would be to say that I study losers. And I am interested in those who lose out on societal gains and opportunities. It’s another way of saying I’m interested in inequalities and stratification.
Wray found what he has taken to calling the “Suicide Belt.”

WRAY: So, yes, the inner mountain west is a place that is disproportionately populated by middle-aged and aging white men, single, unattached, often unemployed with access to guns. This may turn out to be a very powerful explanation and explain a lot of the variance that we observe. It’s backed up by the fact that the one state that has rates that is on par with what we see in the suicide belt is Alaska.
Alright, so now you can get a picture of the American who’s most likely to kill himself: an older, white male who owns a gun, probably unmarried and maybe unemployed, living somewhere out west, probably in a rural area. Now, don’t you want to know: where aren’t people killing themselves?

VERALYN WILLIAMS: OK, so I’m standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. It’s got the lowest suicide rate of any American city: just six per 100,000 people. We sent Veralyn Williams there to ask strangers a couple of strange questions.

WILLIAMS: Do you know anyone that committed suicide?

TYRONE: Personally no.

AMINA: No.

WILLIAMS: Do you know anyone that’s died of homicide?

AMINA: Yes.

SAMIAR: Yes, I do.

BARNES: I got a son that’s been murdered. I’ve got cousins that’s been murdered. I’ve probably been to 100 wakes in the past year. But I can’t tell you one person that I know that’s committed suicide.
Now, as we told you earlier, there are more than twice as many suicides each year in the U.S. as there are homicides. There are just three places where the homicide rate is higher than the suicide rate: Louisiana, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. It’s not a coincidence that these are also places with large African-American populations. African-Americans are only about half as likely to kill themselves as whites. When it comes to murder, meanwhile, African-Americans are nearly six times more likely than whites to die.

DONNA BARNES: In our community, it’s different. We have low rates of suicide and high rates of homicide.

WILLIAMS: Why do you think that is?

BARNES: I think a lot of those homicides are probably suicides.
Donna Barnes works at the suicide prevention center at Howard University.

BARNES: It’s very easy when you are stressed and you don’t want to live anymore and put yourself in harm’s way and somebody will take you out. And many times, we will externalize our frustration, meaning that we’re going to take it out on other people. And then you might have more folks, maybe from the dominant culture, who internalize their frustration and take it out on themselves. We have been socialized to believe that a lot of our disadvantages are based on our surroundings — racism, discrimination and all of that. So it’s really easy, for us, when we become frustrated and we look at what’s going on around us, to take it out on the environment and other people rather than ourselves.
I asked David Lester if he had an explanation for the black-white suicide gap.

LESTER: If you’re white and in psychological pain, what can you blame it on? Other people are doing well, why aren’t you doing well? Other people are happy why aren’t you happy? So maybe that, in part, accounts for the higher suicide rate in whites as compared to African-Americans is because whites have fewer external causes to blame their misery for.

MUSIC: Morrison 78s, “Goodbye Little Girl Goodbye”

I find this idea fascinating. As Lester is quick to point out, it is little more than an idea – it’s pretty much impossible to prove. The fact is, we usually don’t know much about what’s going through a person’s mind as they consider suicide. But when your life is miserable, when it seems beyond redemption or repair, where do you put the blame? You can blame other people. You can blame yourself. What if you could blame … a song?
* * *
As we said earlier, there are about 36,500 suicides a year in the U.S. That’s an average of 100 a day. The vast, vast majority of them, you never hear about. They don’t make the news. That’s not an accident. For decades, sociologists have been studying the media’s impact on suicide rates. And some say they’ve proven that a widely publicized suicide – when described in a certain way – can lead to copycat suicides. A suicide contagion.

SEAN COLE: All right so we’re gonna have to go all the way back to 1774… when this novel came out.

READER: The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. May 4. How happy I am that I am gone! My dear friend, what a thing…

COLE: For those of you who have never read it – I had never read it – “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is written mostly as a series of fictional letters by a young, dilettante artist named Werther. He travels to the countryside, falls in love with a girl who’s already engaged, despairs, and then borrows two pistols from her fiancé.

READER: “They are loaded. The clock strikes twelve. I say Amen! Charlotte! Charlotte! Farewell! Farwell!”

COLE: Sorry to spoil the ending. Now, this book was really popular when it came out. Scholars talk about legions of men in Europe dressing like the character, in blue swallowtail coats and canary yellow pants. And while this next part is probably apocryphal, the story goes that…

DAVID PHILLIPS: Many people who read the book killed themselves by the same method and sometimes they even killed themselves with the book open to the page where he was described as killing himself.

COLE: David Phillips is a sociology professor at U.C. San Diego and the father of imitative suicide research in America. In 1974, exactly 200 years after Werther was published, he released a seminal paper called, “The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect.”

PHILLIPS: My students and I were the first to provide modern large scale evidence that there is, in fact, such a thing as copycat suicide. And we called this, I called it, the Werther Effect.

COLE: Now, Werther is a work of fiction. But the Werther Effect focuses more on true stories about suicide. The theory goes that whenever the media runs with a big sensational suicide story, especially if the victim is famous, you can expect a bump in suicide rates. Phillips and company gathered 20 years of suicide data, 1948 to 1967, from The National Center for Health Statistics. Then they combed through back issues of three major newspapers and honed in on front-page suicide reports: the actress Carole Landis; Dan Burros who ran the KKK in New York; one of the most famous stars in Hollywood history.

NEWS REPORT: One of the most famous stars in Hollywood history is dead at 36. Marilyn Monroe was found dead in bed.

COLE: Of course, this was back before all of the conspiracy theories about how she died. Anyway, in 27 out of 33 cases like this: suicide rates were higher than expected for about two months following the story. So for example, Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. For the rest of that August, U.S. suicide rates were 10 percent higher than normal.

PHILLIPS: How do we know that there’s a 10 percent increase in August of ’62. We’re comparing the number of suicides in August of ’62 with the number of suicides in August of 1961 and the number of suicides in August of 1963.

COLE: So those other Augusts are the controls.

PHILLIPS: That’s right.

COLE: In some cases, the bump was a lot smaller. But it’s not so much the size, says Phillips, as the consistency. And it wasn’t just suicides that went up after these media reports.

PHILLIPS: You also get a spike in single-car crashes after suicide stories. And you see that the driver in the single car crash is unusually similar to the person described in the suicide story. So if the person described in the suicide story is unusually young, then the spike in single-car crashes just afterwards has drivers who are unusually young.

COLE: So to close that loop — they’re not accidents. They’re people who are committing suicide.

PHILLIPS: Right. So all of these things together make it very difficult to think of an alternative explanation.

COLE: But this is not to say people kill themselves because they read a big, splashy suicide story in the paper.

THOMAS NIEDERKROTENTHALER: It’s not really about the causes of suicide. It’s about the trigger of suicides.

COLE: This is Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, an assistant professor at The Medical University of Vienna in Austria. About 10 years after that original study, the Werther Effect hit Vienna in a big way.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: There was a tremendous increase of subway suicides and suicide attempts on the Viennese subway in the early 1980’s.

COLE: In 1983 there was just one jumper in the Viennese subway and that person lived. The next year there were seven suicides by subway in Vienna. And the big Austrian newspapers ran graphic stories about them. 1985, 13 jumpers, 10 deaths, more splashy articles. At the peak, in 1987, there were 11 successful suicide attempts in the Viennese subway and 11 unsuccessful. Though granted, three of those were the same guy. Finally, the Austrian Association of Suicide Prevention told the press to tone it down. They issued a whole series of recommendations: don’t include the word “suicide” in the headline. Don’t print pictures of grieving relatives.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: But you should also mention help-lines. Helping opportunities for people in crisis.

COLE: Amazingly, the Austrian media listened. The stories were less graphic, and they stopped running so many of them.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: And at the same time the number of suicides and suicide attempts on the Viennese subway decreased by nearly 80 percent. And this is really stunning— the numbers remained relatively low in all the years up until today.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, I thought that was a pretty study.

COLE: This is David Phillips again. He says he’s actually not so comfortable telling the media what to do. He thinks freedom of the press should be inviolate. But both the World Health Organization and the AP Managing Editors Association asked for his advice. So he basically told them, ‘Think of a suicide story as a kind of commercial. If you make the product attractive, people will want it.’ But if you say…
PHILLIPS: “By the way, when a person kills himself, let’s say by shooting, he looks terrible afterwards.” Or, “When a person poisons himself, he often fouls the bed sheets.” And things like this. If you talk about the pain and the disfigurement, then I thought that would make it less likely that people would be copying the suicide.

COLE: And there may even be a trend growing in the other direction. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and his team in Austria did their own study looking at nearly 500 newspaper articles from the first half of 2005. He says not only did they find more evidence for the Werther Effect, but they saw suicide rates go down when the media wrote about someone who found an alternative solution to his or her problems.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: So this may be exactly the opposite side of the same thing. And we called this effect: the Papageno Effect.

COLE: Papageno is another fictional character, from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” Like Werther, he’s in suicidal crisis over a girl, his beloved Papagena. But just as he’s about to hang himself, three young boys rush the stage and tell him not to do it. They say…

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: “Papageno use your magic bells and Papagena will come back.” And psychologically speaking, we can say this is what we believe that those newspaper or press articles do. They remind people what they can do other than commit suicide.

WRAY: Now I should say that I’m pretty agnostic about this. My sense is that what this literature misses are all of the times that high profile suicides occur that don’t spark contagion. The one that comes to mind is Kurt Cobain. So everyone was expecting a rash of shotgun-induced, blow-your-head-off suicides in the wake of Cobain’s death. They did not materialize. And so the question is…

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: Why was it so? There was some specifics about Kurt Cobain’s suicide. In particular, Cobain’s spouse…

COLE: Courtney Love. Yeah.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: Yeah, Courtney Love. She was broadcast in the media immediately after his suicide.

COURTNEY LOVE: I’m really sorry you guys. I don’t know what I could have done.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: And she told to the audience this was really the wrong thing to do. And there is one study, actually from the U.S., which showed that reports that use negative definitions of suicide — so such as suicide is something that is stupid that you should not do— that those reports are 99 percent less likely to identify a copycat phenomenon than other reports.

COLE: So, listen, suicide is something is stupid, that you should not do. After all, I am the media. And this whole show is basically one big suicide article. And as I said to Matt Wray, I’ve been wondering which type of article it is.

WRAY: Are you guys trying to figure out how to report on this story without, like, sparking suicides?

COLE: Well, it is an odd little meta problem isn’t it. I mean, I’m doing a story about whether what I’m doing a story about could possibly cause a suicide contagion.

WRAY: Yes, I’m well acquainted with that dilemma.
* * *
But what about a song? David Lester, the psychology professor, tells us about the time…

LESTER: In the 1930s, two Hungarians wrote a song called “Gloomy Sunday” that was thought to precipitate a wave of suicides across Europe.
Freakonomics Radio producer Suzie Lechtenberg went to Hungary.

SUZIE LECHTENBERG: Rezso Seress’ piano still sits, rather benignly, in the restaurant in Budapest where he used to play his most famous song. The person in the song is thinking about suicide. He, or she, wants to be reunited with a lover who has just died. Today, it sounds a bit melodramatic, but as many as 200 people might have killed themselves after listening to this song.
ZOLTAN RIHMER: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

LECHTENBERG: Because they heard the song?

RIHMER: Yeah. But it was just the trigger.

LECHTENBERG: It was just the trigger, Hungarian psychiatrist Zoltan Rihmer says. But it had to be stopped. The Budapest police enforced a Gloomy Sunday ban. And the BBC…

LESTER: The BBC banned that song until 2002.

LECHTENBERG: These days, the owner of the restaurant where Seress used to play, still gets requests. He’s not afraid to play it. But he feels certain that this was a suicidal song. It should come as no surprise then…

RIHMER: Rezo Seress completed suicide. He was around 70.

LECHTENBERG: In 1968, Rezo Seress — Gloomy Sunday’s composer — jumped to his death from the window of his small apartment in Budapest. Unfortunately, this Hungarian suicide story isn’t unique to this one man, or this one song. Suicide has been epidemic in this country. For most of the last century, Hungary has had the highest suicide rate in the world. Right now, it’s more than double the suicide rate in the United States. So what is it about this place? Why are so many people killing themselves here?

SZILVIA LADONMERSZKY: Oh, my husband. My husband was very handsome. Great looking. Very intelligent.

LECHTENBERG: Szilvia and Levente Ladomerszky met at a concert. He was a neurologist, she worked in finance. He was cool, she says. They fell in love. Married. Had a daughter. But they didn’t have a fairy tale ending. Levente’s family had a history of mental illness. It was something he was afraid was in his blood.

LADONMERSZKY: Before we married, were sitting at the kitchen table, and he told me that, if it ever happens to him, that he gets ill, and he will need treatment with drugs, then he will refuse the drugs. And he will never take drugs, he prefers dying because drugs, psychiatric drugs, will change personality and he wants to remain himself all the time.

LECHTENBERG: Levente’s mental state deteriorated. He was hospitalized.

LADONMERSZKY: And a few years after, it happened to him exactly what he described.

LECHTENBERG: When he had a few moments alone, when the doctors and nurses left his room, Levente Ladomerszky hanged himself.

LADONMERSZKY: My own suicide I was able to completely ignore, but my husband’s is somehow still with us.

LECHTENBERG: “My own suicide was something I was able to completely ignore.” Szilvia tried to kill herself years before she and Levente met. But she says, she didn’t want to die. It was a cry for help more than anything else.

LADONMERSZKY: I took a bunch of pills, but made sure that it won’t kill me.

LECHTENBERG: Everyone in Hungary knows someone like Szilvia, like Levente. The World Health Organization says in 2008, about 2,400 people committed suicide here. To put that number in context, around the same time in Greece, a country that’s roughly the same size, there were 394 suicides.

RIHMER: Yes, my name is Zoltan Rihmer.

LECHTENBERG: I met Dr. Zoltan Rihmer in his smoke-filled office in Budapest. He’s a professor of psychiatry at Semmelweis University, and he says, there are two main reasons the suicide rate is so high.

RIHMER: The prevalence of bipolar disorder. We have found the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in Hungary is five percent.

LECHTENBERG: The worldwide rate of bipolar disorder is about half that.

RIHMER: The risk of suicide is much higher among patients with bipolar disorder. It can be one factor. But it is just one factor. Alcohol. Alcohol plays a very important role in suicide.

LECHTENBERG: And Hungary has the third highest alcohol consumption rate in the world. This country is about the size of Indiana. From the window of a train, the Hungarian Great Plains look like it too. In the southwest, there’s a small town called Kiskunhalas.

KATALIN SZANTO: It’s a nice little town.

LECHTENBERG: That’s psychiatrist Katalin Szanto.

SZANTO: So, there is a little lace museum there, and there are these women making beautiful laces. On the other hand, if you walk around, you see drunken people outside the pubs. If you visit the local hospital in the psychiatric ward, there the circumstances were very, very poor.

ÁGNES RACZ NAGY SPEAKING IN HUNGARIAN through TRANSLATOR: My name is Dr. Ágnes Rácz Nagy, and I’m the leader of this psychiatric department of the Kiskunhalas hospital.

LECHTENBERG: Until 2005, Kiskunhalas was the epicenter of suicide in Hungary. Suicide in this town was double the national rate. As one cultural critic put it, living here, was like living on psychic death row.

NAGY: I’ve seen a family — it was a big family — and there were more than 10 suicides in the family.

LECHTENBERG: In 2001, Dr. Agnes Rácz Nagy and a colleague began 100 “psychological autopsies,” meaning, they interviewed families, in depth, after a loved one committed suicide.

NAGY: In 67 there was mood disorder, and 60 alcohol. And of course there were overlaps as well. But this number is huge.

LECHTENBERG: This was part of a study that ran for five years in Kiskunhalas. Dr. Katalin Szanto and colleagues trained 28 of the town’s 30 general practitioners in suicide prevention. They set up a suicide hotline, and made low-cost anti-depressants available to residents. Then they compared their results to a neighboring town — a control group. And it worked.

SZANTO: Yeah, there were, like, 34 less suicides during these five years than in the previous five years.

LECHTENBERG: Overall, the suicide rate in the region decreased sixteen percent. The suicide rate for women decreased 34 percent. This shouldn’t be that surprising. Research by academics in the United States, like Jens Ludwig, has shown that anti-depressants do lower the suicide rate. But here’s the thing: even though the suicide prevention program in Kishkunhals was a success, this model just hasn’t caught on elsewhere in Hungary. The country still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So, why?

BELA BUDA: Well, we can see a part of the bridge, the Margaret Bridge.

LECHTENBERG: Back in Budapest, everywhere you walk, there are musicians playing classical music in the streets. The Margaret Bridge stretches over the Danube, which is the lifeblood of this city. It’s stunning, but it’s also the place where many Hungarians have jumped to their death. I met psychiatrist Bela Buda on the banks of the river.

BUDA: I am 73. I was born and lived in Budapest in all my life.

LECHTENBERG: He looks exactly how you want someone named Buda to look: graying, rotund. I’ve been told he speaks 17 languages. He says it’s just 12. Buda has tried to solve the problem of suicide his entire career. He started the first suicide hotline in the country; he worked in psychiatric wards when the suicide rate was soaring. But, he says, this problem is hard to solve, because a lot of people here don’t see anything wrong with suicide.

BUDA: The Hungarian general opinion is very favorable towards suicide. If somebody commits suicide, then it is commented as a brave act. That somebody had the courage to end suffering. For instance, these old men who hang themselves are praised in the community that he was brave enough to free the family from the burden of his existence.
* * *
Next year, the Golden Gate Bridge will celebrate its 75th anniversary. You’ll hear all kinds of tributes to it, all kinds of facts and figures. One number you probably won’t hear, at least in the official proclamations, is the suicide toll: since the Golden Gate Bridge opened, more than 1,400 people have killed themselves by jumping off it.
There is another place that now attracts more suicides each year — the Aokigahara Forest in Japan – but, historically, the Golden Gate is still the world’s No. 1 suicide spot. Last year alone, 32 people jumped and died. Now, it should be said that every weekday, about 5,000 people walk across the bridge and don’t jump. And 100,000 cars cross it every day.

TAXI DRIVER: My name is (name in Thai). That’s 17 letters all together.
He moved here from Thailand in 1968, and he drove a cab in San Francisco for 15 years.

TAXI DRIVER: One night I picked up a guy, I think down nearby Tenderloin, and he want to go Golden Gate bridge. Must be 11 o’clock at night. And I said “OK,” so I drove on Franklin Street. He said, “You want to ask me why I go to Golden Gate Bridge this late?” I said, “No, but if you want to tell me, I guess I will listen to it.” And he said “I’m going to go and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.” And I said, “OK.” “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “Why should I?” So I get out to the Golden Gate Bridge, I think the fare was like $7 or something at that time. And he looked in his wallet and found $10, so he give it to me, the $10. So I told him, “I don’t think you need any change.” He said “I guess you’re right, I don’t need any change.” So, I let him off at the side of the bridge, and once he get off, I turned around the cab and called my dispatcher. I told him, “Why don’t you call the harbor patrol there?” And he did. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe I was too cool to him. I don’t know what happened— if he was really going to jump.
Now, we don’t know if this man did, in fact, jump off the Golden Gate Bridge that night. If he did, he almost certainly died, since only two percent of jumpers survive. We also have no idea what was going through his head that night. Did he have a fight with someone? Did he lose his job? Did he maybe just have one drink too many?

LESTER: I’m expected to know the answers to questions such as why people kill themselves.
If you unpack that “why” in “why people kill themselves,” there are all kinds of other things we don’t know about suicide either. For instance: the percentage of people who seek help, or get help, before committing suicide. We don’t know. Or even how many people who commit suicide are mentally ill. Lester says there is so much disagreement on this question that estimates range from five percent to 94 percent. And then there’s the mystery of the suicidal impulse.

LESTER: And I just found a case, which I’m using in an article that I’m writing, where the time between the impulse and the act was something like five seconds.
Think about that: five seconds.

LESTER: The man was walking over a bridge, and suddenly the thought came to him.
One.

LESTER: He was in some, I think, financial distress,
Two.

LESTER: But he hadn’t thought about suicide before.
Three.

LESTER: And he said, I ought to kill myself.
Four.

LESTER: And he immediately jumped off the bridge.
Five.

LESTER: And he was saved. And that’s the shortest interval I’ve come across.
One academic study looked at attempted suicides in Houston among 15-to-34-year-olds. It found that in 70 percent of the cases, the time between deciding to commit suicide and taking action was under an hour. Seventy percent of the cases. For about one-quarter of the people involved, the time gap was five minutes or less. That’s pretty stunning. People are making a permanent decision to end their lives, on the spur of the moment. How are you supposed to stop that? Remember this guy?

TAXI DRIVER: My name is (name in Thai).
He didn’t try to stop his taxi passenger from jumping.

TAXI DRIVER: “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “Why should I?”
“Why should I?” Sounds cold-hearted, doesn’t it. Or does it? Your life belongs to you. It’s a crime to take someone else’s life. But not yours, at least not a crime in practice. So: should we consider the suicidal impulse a rational choice? I know what you’re thinking: only an economist would say something like that, an economist like Dan Hamermesh, at the University of Texas. He once wrote a paper called “An Economic Theory of Suicide.”

DAN HAMERMESH: Well, I think there’s an epigraph to the paper, which I cannot quote exactly, it’s by Arthur Schopenhauer: “When the value of a man’s life is less…” You can read it there, I don’t have it with me, now. Why don’t you read it.

DUBNER: “As soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to him life.”

HAMERMESH: Exactly. Well, that’s just an economic statement. You’re weighing the benefits on one side of the equation, the costs of the other. If the costs exceed the benefits, you chop off the investment.
Back in the spring of 1972, Dan Hamermesh was hunting around for a research topic. And he thought of a poem he’d read back in high school.

HAMERMESH: The poem is “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson, written in the last decade of the nineteenth century. “Whenever Richard Cory went downtown, we people on the pavement looked at him…
There was something about the poem that nagged him.

HAMERMESH: …and he was rich, yes richer than the king, and admirably schooled in every grace. In fine, we thought that he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place. So, on we worked and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread. And Richard Cory, one calm summer night went home and put a bullet in his head.”
That’s it, the last part. It didn’t make sense to him.

HAMERMESH: I was always very bothered by the notion that suicide’s a problem of rich people. And that always struck me, as an economist, as being really stupid since rich people are generally going to be happier, utility is higher, income goes up, you should be less likely to kill yourself. So those were the thoughts running through my mind that spring afternoon of 1972.
So Dan Hamermesh did what economists do. He wrote a model to determine the conditions under which suicide might be considered a rational choice. He came up with three predictions. Suicide, one, rises with age; two, falls as income increases; and three, falls if your “desire to live” is high. Nothing so radical, but at the time, no one had tried anything like this.
Then, Hamermesh plugged some suicide data from the World Health Organization into his model. His predictions were right. He also calculated the opportunity cost of a suicide. A 50-year-old person and a 70-year-old person have different expectations of future happiness, income, and so on. So the price of suicide is higher for the 50-year-old. But whether it makes economic sense for either person to commit suicide depends on what economists call the utility function – how much you value your life.
So it all goes back to the Schopenhauer quote at the beginning of Hamermesh’s paper: “as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life.” Hamermesh may have been the first economist to wrestle with suicide in this way, but he was hardly the first to intellectualize it:

MARGARET BATTIN: Plato, Aristotle, the Greek and Roman Stoics, the early Church Fathers on up to Durkheim and Freud.
Margaret Battin…

BATTIN: Sometimes called Peggy.
… is a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah. Plato, she says, argued that suicide was wrong in some cases, not wrong in others. Aristotle thought it was cowardly, an offense to society.

BATTIN: The Stoics, on the other hand, thought that suicide was the act of the wise man. This is not done in desperation or agitation or depression or any of the things that we ordinarily associate with that term, but it’s the reflective responsible act of the genuinely wise man.
For the Stoics, suicide was a procedure. People who wanted to commit suicide would plead their case before magistrates to get permission; the magistrates kept a supply of hemlock on hand.

READER: “Whoever no longer wishes to live shall state his reasons to the Senate, and after having received permission shall abandon life. If your existence is hateful to you, die; if you are overwhelmed by fate, drink the hemlock. If you are bowed with grief, abandon life. Let the unhappy man recount his misfortune, let the magistrate supply him with the remedy, and his wretchedness will come to an end.”
But going forward in history, this was hardly the mainstream view. Christianity held that suicide is a sin; Dante set aside one ring of his Inferno for suicides. Fast forward about 700 years, and we’re still firm in our moral stance. We can’t really consider suicide a rational choice, can we?

MARGARET HEILBRUN: We would wake up to the sound of her typing at an astonishing speed on her Smith Corona typewriter.
Margaret Heilbrun is talking about her mom. Carolyn Heilbrun was a Virginia Woolf scholar at Columbia; she wrote mystery novels on the side. She was famous for making grand pronouncements, for saying outlandish things.

MARGARET HEILBRUN: A partner of mine enjoyed drinking Stolichnaya vodka, so she took to having it on hand, but she insisted on calling it “Solzhenitsyn” vodka. And she knew it wasn’t, but she just, you know— “I’ll go get the Solzhenitsyn.” So, it was the same with her once she started saying that she would kill herself when she reached a certain age. But it was another one of those sort of pronouncements. And one thought, “oh well, Mommy’s prone to pronouncements.”
Carolyn Heilbrun had decided that, by the time she turned 70, she would have accomplished what she could accomplish; she would have had enough of life, and she’d end it. Her family – her husband and three grown kids – they weren’t quite sure what to make of this. It was a relief when her 70th birthday came and went without a suicide. Apparently she had changed her mind. She even wrote a book called The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. Her daughter says she took a lot of pleasure in life, even the small things.

HEILBRUN: She loved to get gifts. And it was quite easy to please her with a gift. And she’d made some sort of remark about she wanted to start listening to sextets, I think she said. No longer string quartets, no longer string quartets, I want quintets and sextets. And I was at Borders bookstore and found, could it have been a sextet by Elgar? And this was on Tuesday, the 7th of October. And I pulled out my cell phone to call her, and her voicemail came on, and I thought, “well I don’t really feel like talking to her right now.” I was going to call and say, “oh you don’t really want Elgar do you? You really want me to buy you Elgar?” And I hung up before she picked up, and I never spoke to her again.
Carolyn Heilbrun waited until she was 77, and then she did kill herself on October 9, 2003. She wasn’t sick; she wasn’t depressed. But she did feel she’d come to the end of her writing life. And that was that.

HEILBRUN: She left a note out in the foyer that said, “The journey is over, love to all. Carolyn.”

DUBNER: Did anyone know that she was planning to kill herself now? Did you father know, for instance?

HEILBRUN: Oh no, he didn’t know.

DUBNER: Your father — he was an economist, yes?

HEILBRUN: Yes.

DUBNER: So, economists are practiced in the art, or science, or whatever it is, of what’s known as rational thinking. Here is the wife of an economist, your mother, who seems to have approached suicide, at least life and the end of life, as a rational decision. Did you see it that way, or no?

HEILBRUN: No, I think it’s: if you’re mortally ill and in great pain, I can see seeking to end your life. But no, I think it was unreasonable, irrational of her. But, I think she felt it entirely reasoned out and rational.

DUBNER: Well, Margaret, I’m sorry for your loss and again, I very much appreciate your willingness to come speak to us.

HEILBRUN: Well, thank you.
For David Lester, the dean of suicide studies, 40-plus years of research has yielded some answers about the “what” of suicide – who’s most likely to do it, and when, and how. But the “why” remains elusive. The people who do it aren’t necessarily the ones you might expect.
Remember the point Steve Levitt made earlier in show – how puzzling it is that people whose lives look so hard don’t kill themselves in huge numbers? Remember the Piraha, the Amazonian tribe with their outrageous rates of infant mortality and malaria – but no suicide? Or African Americans, who trail white Americans on just about every meaningful socioeconomic dimension – but commit suicide half as often? Here’s what David Lester has been thinking about:

LESTER: Actually, I’ve done studies on the quality of life in nations and the quality of life in the different states in America. And regions with a higher quality of life have a higher suicide rate. Now, quality of life is more than wealth. The people who try and rate the quality of life use a variety of indices: health, education, culture, geography, all kinds of things. So they put more into it than just median family income, or individual per capita income. And what I’ve argued, therefore, is it seems to be an inevitable consequence of improving the quality of life. If your quality of life if poor— and it may be you’re unemployed, you’re an oppressed minority, whatever it might be, there’s a civil war going on, you know why you’re miserable — you know, as the quality of life in a nation gets better and you are still depressed – well, why? Everybody else is enjoying themselves, getting good jobs, getting promotions, you know, buying fancy cars. Why are you still miserable? So, there’s no external cause to blame your misery upon, which means it’s more likely that you see it as some defect or stable trait in yourself. And therefore you’re going to be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life.

DUBNER: It’s so interesting. There are just so many pieces of this puzzle, as you put it, that are fascinating, but confounding. I mean, what you’re talking about now, when there’s a higher quality of life, suicide tends to rise. Your wife, who’s an economist, I wonder if she would consider then calling suicide to some degree a luxury good?

LESTER: Yes, now, there’s an anthropologist in the past, Raoul Naroll, who considers suicide an indication of a sick society. And so, in my writings I’ve argued that no, it’s an indication of a healthy society. So, it is a puzzle. There’s a paradox, perhaps we should say.”

Love,
Matthew

Sin? WTF? What’s that? Who cares? What’s the diff?

chastity

There’s a BIG diff. Holiness “integrates” the entire human person, as God intended, repairing the wounds of sin in that person and their community; and is achieved ONLY through His most merciful grace. Sin, the rebellion against God and His Holy Will, therefore, “disintegrates” the human person. We can see this now, here, in our lives through greed, lust, envy, pride, divorce, addiction, adultery, even atheism/agnosticism, heresy, and their counterparts all disintegrate the human person from what God intends. Praise His most holy name. Praise Him. Please, please pray for me in my struggles against my own temptations, that I might not be disintegrated in His sight. He has been so good to me! 🙂 1 Cor 9:27. Pray that I may turn from my sin, and LIVE!!!! 🙂

hyacinth_grubb
-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

¨Bob is Bob,” and “Dan is Dan;” these statements are tautologically true. Yet we also say that “Bob isn’t himself today,” and this manner of speaking gets at something profound. We can, somehow, be more or less “ourselves.” But what does that mean, exactly?

It doesn’t mean that personhood changes or disappears, or that someone becomes someone else. Rather, it is a statement about wholeness, completeness, and integrity of life; or the lack of integrity and that absence of a proper order in life—being scattered, fragmented. And there is, ultimately, only one thing that can destroy integrity: sin.

Sin wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1849)

Sin is not an offense against an arbitrary standard concocted by a devious divinity. It’s an offense against reason and truth. As such, its effects are not only external, breaking the divine and eternal law, but also internal. It wounds human nature by destroying the proper ordering of life, by twisting nature to perverted counterfeits of the good it seeks. Sin makes us less ourselves.

All sin and vice lead us to lose ourselves, but some kinds more than others. This depends not only on the gravity of the offense, but also on the role that each virtue and vice plays in human life. One virtue is particularly important, and particularly neglected in our era: that of chastity. Chastity is especially important not because Christians are obsessed with controlling a particular, and personal, aspect of people’s lives, but because it reflects and informs integrity and self-possession throughout all facets of life.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift … Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. (CCC 2337, 2346) (Ed. Since when I was in novitiate and missioned to St John’s food pantry in Cincinnatti, where I heard the true, true maxim, oft since reheard, “You cannot give what you do not have!”)

The proper ordering of life is, ultimately, one of self-mastery and self-gift, for “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). Chastity is a virtue exemplifying both self-mastery and self-gift. Self-mastery, since “the alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2338). Self-gift, since “some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner,” and some profess vows “in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC 2349, 2337). Chastity, thus, is worth our special concern.

In today’s age, in a culture of explicit and unbridled and almost unavoidable unchastity, sin has harmed each of us, distorted your integrity and mine, in a drastic way. It is no surprise that so many people are “not themselves” and are unable to gather the scattered fragments of life. It may tempt us to despair, but we are comforted by our Savior and the confidence that “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom. 5:20). It is by grace, purchased at great price, that sin is expelled, virtue gained, and our selves made whole.”

Love,
Matthew