Heya everybody, just an update from college with a request.
I am an atheist and have read quite a bit from the New Atheist movement. I am a member of my school's Secular Student Society and a Religion minor. That being said, I was, for some reason, paired with a Catholic roommate. We get along pretty well, but do have our religious discussions. Recently, I cornered him in a discussion about free will, causing him to use an Appeal to Authority and agree to consult his priest with any questions I feel like giving him.
Oh goody. I used to love to argue Catholic apologetics.
What would you suggest? So far I have:
1. If God is all-knowing, he knows before I am born if I am going to Heaven or Hell. He can do anything to change it, as he is all-powerful. Despite being all-loving, however, he does nothing or not enough to make a difference. Why is this?
2. Why does God not reveal himself irrefutably? It happened all the time in the Old Testament and would ensure the path to Heaven for billions.
3. Why do Catholics pray to saints rather than God himself? There is nothing about needing a medium in the Bible.
4. Why do Catholics need to confess their sins to a priest? Why is it not enough to pray directly to God?
None of these. Sorry, but these are relatively elementary questions. I would go with something a little different and appeal to the authority of the church rather than theology (which can always be twisted as the goalposts are far from secure). First, to answer your questions in a good old fashioned Catholic way, I would have responded like this:
1. God does make a difference. He offers grace (his supernatural self) to inspire us. One need not be a Catholic or even a Christian to know the prompting of the holy spirit. A Christian is baptized into the community of the faithful (why Catholics baptize infants rather than waiting for an age of desire) and that baptism is a sacrament which means two things happen simultaneously. For one thing, the water is a symbol of cleansing (the "stain" of original sin is "washed away") The water symbolizes cleansing and starting anew (think Noah here), it also symbolizes being brought into the community (one of the two things that replaces circumcision). The other thing it does is effect the soul supernaturally. That is, it doesn't just symbolize cleansing, it actually,
er, mystically infuses the soul with "sanctifying grace" (makes one able to tolerate the presence of the divine, as opposed to that poor shlepp who tried to keep the ark from falling back in the old testament and died instantly).
Now, God set up a plan in the church to offer all these sacraments but God doesn't need these sacraments to do his work. In other words, he's not limited by anything (or as Homer Simpson says, can God microwave a burrito so hot even he can't touch it?). So God knows if you are going to hell but he keeps putting giving you messages, easter eggs
I guess you could say, to help you find the right thing to do. He's not going to force you but he doesn't leave you on your own, either.
2. Catholics aren't obligated to read the old testament literally so you're likely to be talking to a believer and his priest who would say God didn't necessarily reveal himself like in the stories of old, they were just stories told to make a point. That point being, God is with us. But I think you're likely to get the easter egg kind of reply. God is there, think to a time where you were in some danger or precarious situation and found a way out. That was God, manipulating the environment for your sake. See how convenient?
3. Oh Saints were my favorites! The real answer is that Saint veneration was the most adaptable crossover from paganism but your roommate isn't likely to accept that (but for kicks, you can find a whole boatload of Catholic Saints and their pagan counterparts). The Catholic answer is a little more complicated and if you're not familiar with Catholic theology will take a bit of getting used to. In a nutshell here is my answer:
Catholics believe in a thing called the economy of grace (it was one of the two things Martin Luther refused to stop preaching heresy from the pulpit as a representative of the Catholic Church being a priest and all, for which he was ultimately excommunicated, but that's neither here nor there). You can think of it like an economy, only it's never ending of course because it's God. "Grace" to a Catholic means simply, "God's presence." When Catholics go to confession, it's to get absolution for their sins so their soul can take up more "grace" (since God will not force himself on anyone ~do not think about Paul on the road to Damascus~). Because one looses grace by sinning, they have a harder time with these easter egg messages from the divine. In other words, it's harder to be good and righteous when your soul is crusty from sin. Absolution cleanses this out, restores the believer in full to the community, and replaces all that lost grace that slipped out when sin suffocated the soul. Mortal sin is that sin that strips the soul of every last ounce of God's grace (mortal = death). Without God's grace, even a touch, one can't live in heaven with him. This is what purgatory fixes, but essentially one needs that grace restored so that if they get hit by a bus after a particularly grievous sin, they won't go directly to hell for not having any sanctifying grace (it also explains the doctrine of Limbo for babies who died before baptism and sanctifying grace, which was finally put to rest in the last couple years).
Anyway, this economy of grace means that there's lots of grace floating around (not unlike neutrinos - you can't see 'em but they're everywhere, hehe). This grace can be "shared" if you will. This is what the theology of suffering is all about (and why Mother Teresa was obsessed with caring for the suffering). Suffering is understood to be able to have redemptive qualities. That is, when one "offers up" their suffering to Jesus, he takes it (because he lives outside time, being God and all), applies it to his work on the cross (which is ongoing, being outside of time and all), and that's what opened up the gates of heaven, or bridged the gap between humanity and God. Or something.
Catholics pray to Saints because one can only be in heaven if they're completely and utterly devoid of all sin and have only grace left in their immortal souls (that's what purgatory is, the mudroom to heaven where all that crusty sin gets stomped off). These Saints sit at the feet of Jesus and sing his praises all day and all night and all the next day and can't wait to do this for the next bazillion years. Because they're with God, God lets them hear your prayers and they reach out their
(sorry, wrong god) souls and bring your prayers straight to Jesus. Not unlike the fast-pass at Disney World.
Mary, God's pinnacle of creation, is Jesus' mother and being a good Catholic boy, Jesus can't help but to love his mother most of all. That's why it's nice to pray to St. Anthony if you've lost your car keys but you would plead to Our Lady to pray for your girlfriend not to be pregnant when it looks like she might be.
4. I touched on that a bit earlier. There are seven sacraments in the Catholic faith and reconciliation/confession is one of them. A sacrament is understood as a sign and means of God's grace. So that means confession not only symbolizes restoration in full with the community of the faithful, it is a means by which grace is restored. Catholics don't have a concept about being perfect. That isn't an expectation. But the rituals are important and one must be "in full communion" with the community to partake of these rituals. By this, really I mean the Eucharist. Anyone can go to Mass and read along and sing along and pray along and kneel along, but only Catholics "in full communion" with the community are invited to partake of the Eucharist. That's another really long story I won't bore you with now but the Eucharist is, like Nick said around here not too long ago, the very miracle of the Christ in your hands. You can't get any closer to God on earth than through the Eucharist (a "mystical kiss" between heaven and earth, as apologist Scott Hahn says). To be denied this would be troublesome for a faithful Catholic, especially since that's how one generally receives God's grace. Reconciliation/confession is the sacrament necessary to be restored to the community of the faithful and only in that communion can one get the Eucharist so it's important.
Part of the sacrament of reconciliation is the absolution. This is the moment when the priest, acting in persona chrisi
, or in the person of Christ (Jesus is acting vicariously through the priest throughout the sacraments), absolves the penitent of their sins. That is, this moment marks the moment God's grace is restored. If I recall correctly, the second thing Martin Luther refused to confess and recant is the office of the pope. Instead, he declared that Christ does not act vicariously through the priest simply because the priest was ordained by a Catholic bishop who himself was ordained by a Catholic bishop (in an unbroken line back to the apostles). Confession, if done with perfect contriteness (not fear of punishment but true sorrow for offending God and others), one is understood to be absolved. I suspect this is a rather new take on an old sacrament, but anyway.
For your general questions, you might find catholic.com
to be helpful.
Instead, I would ask
* If the Christian faith is understood to be a fulfillment of the Jewish faith rather than a new faith, why weren't Jews invited to offer their insight to the first Church councils?
* If "grave sin" is understood to meet three requirements (willful execution, full knowledge of the sin, very big deal), does anyone really commit a mortal sin considering people rationalize their behavior as justifiable in some way, or not all that
bad after all?
* Does Jesus sit at God's right hand now (as is said in the Apostles' Creed every Mass) or is that figurative and if it's figurative, how much of the creed is considered figurative? (if the answer is no, the next question is obvious - where is he now and how can he be sitting next to God, being that he is God?)
Sorry if this is the wrong section (Debates, maybe?), and thank you for your help.
Oh, I have no idea but I'd love to hear how it goes!