Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Of Protestants And Scarecrows

Scarecrows' gathering, near Lausanne, Switzerland (Rastplatz Bavois)
Wikipedia Commons - Source
Have you ever fought a scarecrow?  No.  Seriously. Did you ever fight a scarecrow?  They usually don't fight back.  If you don't believe me, then I suggest you go try it sometime.  Take a stick, walk out into a field (presumably with the farmer's permission) and march right up to the nearest scarecrow.  Raise that stick right up in the air, and start whacking the heck out of it.  I mean, lay into that thing.  Get your aggressions out.  See if it doesn't fight back.  I guarantee it won't.  Then when you've finally knocked it down to the ground, shove that stick right into its straw chest and declare your victory.  You've beaten the scarecrow.  You're a winner!

Now this whole exercise my sound absurd, but actually this sort of practice goes on every day, just not in a literal sense.  It's called the "strawman" argument, and its a form of logical fallacy.  This is how it works.  Suppose you're in a debate with somebody, and you're not sure if you'll win.  So what you do is you take your opponent's argument, and then reconstruct it to your own liking.  In other words, you misrepresent your opponents position.  That's the "strawman."  It's like you've built a straw effigy of your opponent and his position.  Then you go after that misrepresentation with a vengeance.  You use every argument at your disposal to tear down this misrepresentation (strawman).  After you've successfully done that, and the misrepresentation (strawman) is vanquished, you declare your victory before a cheering audience that is none the wiser.  You're opponent is left speechless.  Assuming your audience has a short attention span, or the debate is timed, such a strategy could easily garner a victory -- albeit an empty victory.  You've just destroyed a position your opponent doesn't really adhere to.  You beat the strawman, but you didn't beat your opponent.

You'll find that many of the Protestant arguments against Catholic Christianity are really "strawmen" (misrepresentations of our actual beliefs).  These strawmen are constructed and then torn down, on a regular basis, so as to prove the Biblical superiority of Protestantism over Catholicism.  Usually the attention span of the audience is short.  Most people don't want to stick around to hear both sides of the story.  They're more than satisfied to hear a short justification of why Catholics are wrong about this or that, and why their own Protestant teachings are right.  Then they move on.  So the strawman argument works, and it works well.  In fact, it's been working for a very long time.  The first Protestants to use this method were the original Protestant "reformers" themselves back in the 16th century, and the same method has been employed by successive generations of Protestants every since.  Let's face it, if it didn't work, they wouldn't keep using it.

Probably, the most common strawman employed by Protestants is the "Catholics worship Mary" misrepresentation.  They say "Catholics worship Mary," then they point to the Old Testament prohibitions against worship of anyone but God.  So?  Since worship of anyone but God is idolatry, and Catholics worship Mary, then presto! Catholics must be idolaters.   Now obviously that's not true.  Catholics don't worship Mary.  Our beliefs have been misrepresented here.  But the average Catholic can barely get a word in edgewise before the Protestant is on to the next strawman argument concerning a different matter.  I call this debate tactic "bombardment" wherein so many strawmen (misrepresentations) are presented in succession, that a Catholic never has enough time to address them all.  I once had a Protestant employ this exact method on me, to which I tried to patiently respond to each and every strawman by explaining that's not what we believe.  His response was to ask, in a rather condescending way: "So do you feel like you're always having to explain your religion?  Shouldn't Christianity be simple?"  At my protest to his misrepresentation of Catholic beliefs, he then shouted, "Stop tap-dancing around the issues!"  I'm not alone.  Many Catholics deal with this on a regular basis, especially in the Bible Belt of the United States.  Needless to say, I ended that debate abruptly by accusing him of breaking the commandment to not bear false witness against thy neighbour.  I told him that I can't address several lies simultaneously, and when he's ready to have a civilised discussion about the issues, one at a time, I would be willing to talk to him.  So long as he continued to lie about what I believe, the conversation was over.  He then said: "Are you calling me a liar?"  To which I said yes, because he's already told several untruths about my beliefs, and refused to be corrected about a single one, or even listen to a correction.  The debate ended on unhappy terms, but he couldn't claim a victory out of it.  His audience was left with the nagging question concerning the credibility of his claims about Catholicism.  Now my response to him may sound like a cop out, but it's actually a very useful strategy.  Nobody likes being called a liar.  Once you do that, the burden of proof shifts onto the one creating the strawmen.  He now has to prove that what he is saying is actually true.  He has to prove that the Catholic teaching he "vanquished" was actually the real deal, and not a misrepresentation (strawman).

Now to be clear, I don't like calling people liars, and I almost never do it.  The only time I ever employ this strategy is when the one creating the strawmen will not listen and is also using a tactic of bombardment in a cheap attempt to win a debate without really discussing the issues.  It's actually a fairly rare occurrence, and not generally part of regular everyday discussion with Protestants.

Most of the time, strawman arguments come up one at a time.  When that happens, you can be sure the Protestant making the misrepresentation is probably just repeating something he's heard, or is genuinely confused.  This requires a response with charity and patience.

A good way to begin is to ask the Protestant to explain exactly what he thinks we believe about this issue or that.  Once the explanation is complete, if it doesn't match Catholic doctrine, then simply say the following.  "Wow!  I see what you mean.  That sounds terrible.  I assure you, if the Church actually taught that, I wouldn't believe it either."  Then proceed to explain what the Church actually teaches.  If you're unsure as to what the Church actually teaches, then simply respond by telling them: "Hmmm.  That doesn't sound right.  Let me check and see what the Church actually teaches and I'll get back to you."

We have to understand that nearly every Protestant objection to Catholicism is built on a strawman of some type.  It could be a very small and subtle one, or it could be an overpowering enormous one, but they are almost always strawmen.  As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: "There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be."  Let's face it, when the average Protestant looks at Catholicism, what he sees is not the Catholic Church, but rather a field filled with ugly scarecrows.  They may not have put those scarecrows there in the first place, but who can blame them for wanting to tear them down.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Monday, June 10, 2013

God Has A "Reset" Button

A Solar Storm Emitting A Solar Flare
Photo by NASA
Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a science geek.  That's probably because I was raised by a man who's career was in designing and manufacturing flight recorders for the space shuttle.  One of his job perks was to have luncheons with astronauts.  One of the flight recorders he helped design and build acquired the critical data needed to solve the mystery of the Challenger accident back in 1986.  It was data he helped retrieve from a badly damaged tape. I remember him staying up late many nights working on it, writing figures on graph paper I could never begin to decipher.  I remember him talking about something to do with keeping the tape submerged in a trough and designing a special player that could retrieve the data underwater.  Anyway, you can imagine what my childhood was like.  Though I was never the mathematician he was, I could easily grasp spacial concepts in a visual way.  He and I would casually talk about astrophysics and theories related to black holes, galactic planes, space warping and light bending. This was typical father-son talk at the Schaetzel house back in the 1980s.

So naturally, whenever NASA comes up with a new discovery in space, he and I are some of the first people to look up to the heavens in awe.  We have a true appreciation for the incredible magnitude of power that drives this universe.  To think however, of the ONE who designed it, created it, and holds it in the palm of his hand.  The mind melts at the mere thought of it.  This brings me to a topic that is a little different from my usual blogging chatter.  I have received a lot of messages lately, both on Facebook and through email, related to the state of things in the Western world, particularly as they relate to the Church and society.  The theme of these messages has a common thread.  "How long can this last?" and "Sooner or later, something has gotta give."  The premise here being that God can't put up with the way things are much longer.  The moral decay of Western civilisation is reaching a breaking point.

Well, first things first, we have to remember that God is God.  He can do whatever he wants.  If he wants to let this wicked civilisation we've created continue to grow and infect the entire human race, then that is his prerogative.  It's his show, and he can let it go on as long as he likes.  Secondly however, I think the general concern is probably valid.  It does seem that things are reaching a crescendo when it comes to the general state of moral and social decay in the Western world -- let alone economic stagnation compounded by global unrest.  Of particular concern to many is recent attempts by modern science to control DNA and create new breeds of plants and animals.  Indeed, it would seem that mankind (or at least Western mankind) has no limit to the depths of which it can sink when we consider such intrinsic evils as abortion on demand, euthanasia, combined with the inherently disordered practices of homosexual "marriage."

So the purpose of this article is just to introduce a very sobering reality.  It's not to cause a panic, or make people go out and start hoarding food.  It's simply to remind us of some very real facts of life.  So here is fact of life number one.  Continental storms are real.  I live in the Ozarks Mountains of the Southern Midwest region of the United States.  Two years ago we had an F-5 tornado touchdown about 75 miles away in the City of Joplin.  It's unusual for such strong storms to make it that far into the Ozark Mountains, but it did, and the devastation it created was unreal.  It's been over two years now since that storm hit, and Joplin is still trying to recover.  Fact of life number two is that oceanic storms are real, and they're worse than continental storms.  You see when a continental storm produces an F-5 tornado, the most destructive force it can muster, it still pales in comparison to the maximum power of an oceanic storm -- a category 5 hurricane!  Take that mile-wide destruction caused by the Joplin F-5 tornado and multiply it by 50 miles in width.  That's a category 5 hurricane.  The F-5 tornado wiped out a small section of the City of Joplin.  A category 5 hurricane would have simply wiped out the entire city, and surrounding cities, towns and farmland.  By now you're probably wondering where I'm going with all this, and here it is.  Fact of life number three; just as continental storms are real, and oceanic storms are real, there is also something else that is real.  It's called a solar storm.  A solar storm is just what it sounds like.  It's a storm on the surface of the sun.  The smallest solar storm is millions of time more powerful than a category 5 hurricane.  Even the smallest solar storm would dwarf the size of the earth!  Thankfully, the sun is 93 million miles away, so storms way out there don't have a direct effect on us here.  However, they do have an indirect effect, in that these storms release plasma from the sun in the form of large solar flares called Coronal Mass Ejections, or CME's for short.  Every ten years the earth is bombarded with them.  Fortunately for us, the earth is surrounded by a magnetic field that helps to shield life here from all sorts of harmful solar radiation.  When these plasma ejections (solar flares) hit our region of space, the worst we've dealt with so far are communication problems with satellites.   Biological life on earth is completely unharmed by these plasma ejections, but they do however produce beautiful aurora borealis which are often seen at the planetary poles as the "Northern Lights" and "Southern Lights."  When these plasma ejections are large and strong they can even be seen in areas closer to the equator of the earth.  In the northern hemisphere, that might include places like the Ozarks in Missouri.  My sister had the pleasure of witnessing a redish-colour aurora borealis a few years back while driving north at night from Springfield toward Bolivar.

It's not always about pretty lights though.  Solar storms do have their dark side.  While this kind of solar plasma has no effect on biological life, thanks to the earth's magnetic field, it can wreak havoc on electrical grids if the plasma discharge is strong enough.  Recent studies have shown that the sun erupts in massive storms about once every 50 years and a super-massive storm about once every 150 to 200 years.  These massive storms every 50 years have caused electrical grids in Canada to overload and burn out.  The same thing happened in the United States about 154 years ago, when a super-massive solar storm wiped out most of America's telegraph lines.  Many astronomers say we are about due now for the next super-massive solar storm.  Today however, the world is considerably different than 154 years ago.  Back then nobody relied on electricity.  Aside from the telegraph, nobody used electric communication.  There were no automobiles or gas stations.  Most people used horses to get around, and the trains were powered by coal and steam.  So the simple reality is this.  There wasn't much to be affected by the super-massive solar storm 154 years ago.  The only people who saw the most damage were the executives in the telegraph companies who had to fork out the money for repairs on their telegraph lines all over the country.  Aside from that minor inconvenience, most people living back then didn't even notice it.  Many of them were more concerned about another event that would take place just 2 years later -- The Civil War.  Now about 150 years prior to that (in around 1700) nobody noticed anything, except for some pretty lights in the skies.  That's because electricity hadn't even been discovered yet.  Today however, stop and think about it.  How much do we rely on electricity today?  In the course of the last 154 years, since the last super-massive solar storm, we have built up an electric infrastructure in the Western world that is so massive, and so overwhelmingly comprehensive, that literally every last detail of our modern lives are ruled by it.  From the lights that illuminate our homes, to the gas that is pumped into our cars, to the cell phones we must charge regularly to communicate.  In just one and a half century, we have become almost 100% dependant on the very thing that can (and will) eventually be wiped out within a matter of hours, and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening.  Yes my friends, God has a "reset" button, and when (not "if" but "when") he decides to push it, our entire Western civilisation will be thrown back 150 years overnight, to a time when there were no cell phones, no computers, no television, no radio, no automobiles and no electricity.  It's shocking to consider but the year 2014 (as a hypothetical example) could potentially have more in common with 1814, than with our current year of 2013.

Did I just blow your mind?  I hope so.  It's a humbling thought isn't it?  To think that God could reduce us to such a state, in such a short amount of time, using nothing but a completely natural process that already happens in a normally cyclic pattern, and has happened many times already since the world began.  Yes my friends, it is all together possible that our children may grow up in a world where they will need to ride horses to get around and cell phones will become a thing of the past.  The most reliable forms of communication will once again become the word of mouth and the pony express. Now initially, this kind of cosmic event would have some very serious consequences.  Our Western world is not prepared to handle life without electricity.  Our homes will still be standing, thank God, but we will have nothing to light them with, and many will be without heating and air conditioning.  Distribution systems will be stopped cold, and it won't be but a few days before hunger starts to set in.  Water treatment will be down, so people will have to boil their water for safety, that is, if they have the means to do so without electricity.  Can you imagine the short-term calamity? There will be no noticeable physical destruction.  Everything will still be standing.  The streets will be clean.  Even cars will continue to run for a while (before they run out of gas), but the street lamps will no longer come on at night, the televisions will be silent and everyone's lights will be out.  Within a year, tens of millions will be dead, guaranteed.  That's how dependent we are on electricity.  Ironically, the most prepared people in America will likely be the Amish!!!  It is very probable that they will be the people to lead Westerners out of this mess, by reintroducing them to living off the land and without luxury.  I should point out here that the Amish are not "preppers" who are hunkered down on a ranch preparing for the apocalypse.  No, they are a community and they work together in a micro-society.  That is how people recover from such a catastrophe.  "Prepping" will only get you so far.  Sooner or later, even the "preppers" will have to come out of their holes and rejoin civilisation, even if civilisation is now 1800s style, and they're behind the times, because they were too busy hunkering down in a hole somewhere waiting out the "apocalypse."  The best thing anyone can do to "prepare" for any calamity is network with neighbours, friends and churches.  Start growing your own gardens in your back yards again.  Learn a trade that you can do without electricity.  This is how our world will be rebuilt when the time comes.  It will be regular people, doing regular things (1800s style), and trading with each other in a regular way.  That is the way out of any crisis, not hoarding food and ammunition.  Talk to survivors of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane, and they'll tell you the same thing.  The biggest help came from their friends, neighbours, and churches.  God and social networks are what pull us out of disasters, not food rations and shotguns.

Of course, the world is not going to stay an a retro-period indefinitely.  Even after a super-massive solar storm, the electric company will eventually get the lights back on again, but it may take years before it happens.  So after surviving the initial humanitarian catastrophe, and then learning how to live like the Amish in the months and years that follow, the question is, will people ever trust technology again?  I suspect not, at least, not in the way they previously trusted it in our era.  I suspect the use of electricity will be limited and guarded after such an experience.  The fear of becoming dependent on it again, only to have it taken away, will be too great.  For the most part, people will naturally gravitate toward a simpler and humbler lifestyle, because you see, that will be perceived as "safe."

Yes, God does have a "reset" button, and based on the timing, his finger is probably resting on it now.  When the day comes for the "push," our world will change dramatically.  God could wipe out a whole lot of evil in the modernised world within a very short time.  To do so, however, will require a tremendous cost, and that may be why he hasn't allowed it to happen yet.  By his grace, he's giving us more time to repent of our wicked ways.  Our Evangelical Protestant friends look at the evil of this world and surmise that God is preparing a final apocalypse to consummate our age.  Maybe he is, but he doesn't need the end-times apocalypse to effect the same outcome of purifying the world.  He could do it with a simple natural occurrence, overnight and without warning.  He could very quickly bring the haughty spirit of our modern age down to desperate humility.  It really is no problem.  It's as natural as the cycles of the sun.  Here in the Bible Belt, a whole lot of Evangelical Christians are absolutely convinced these are the "last days" and can't imagine how they couldn't be with everything that is happening in the world today.  However, it's like I told my father just a few weeks ago.  This may not be the "last days" of the "end times," because there is no reason to believe this is not a "dress rehearsal" of what the "last days" will eventually be like.  Maybe we're just getting a taste of it, in advance, to remind us before God pushes that "reset" button and gives humanity several more centuries of time here in earth.

I didn't write this to scare anyone.  I wrote it to remind people of the reality we face, (solar storms are real, just like tornadoes and hurricanes), and to reflect on the providence of God, being thankful for everything he has given us.  I also wrote this to remind us just how fragile everything is, and how we really do depend on God every minute of every day for our very survival.  I also wrote this to urge people to get back to the land and learn how to survive without electricity.  We don't need a super-massive solar storm for something like that to happen.  Anyone who has lived through a tornado or hurricane can tell you all about it.  Finally, I wrote this as a warning, to my fellow man.  God is God.  He will not be mocked.  Modern man would like to pretend that he is God, deciding right and wrong for himself, calling evil "good" and good "evil."  It's a losing game, and one that will probably end very quickly.  The only way to win that game is not to play.  Return to the Lord of life (Jesus Christ) and whatever happens, at least you know you have God's favour.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

New Apologetics Tab

If you look above, you will notice a new tab on the "Catholic In The Ozarks" blog called "Apologetics."  Click on it, and you will find a listing of previous articles categorised according to apologetic interests. A brief explanation is also included with each category. The list is ongoing, and will be regularly updated.  So be sure to bookmark it and check back often.

There are lots of wonderful Catholic apologetic resources on the Internet. I highly recommend them all. Since the beginning of this blog, almost a year ago, I have desired to do something different. Instead of straight apologetics with raw information, I wanted to personalise it. I have hoped to give Catholic apologetics a more human face, customise it for the area in which I live, and thus evangelise on a more personal level. I don't think I have yet accomplished this, but I'm not nearly done yet either. So with your prayers and support, I will continue in this endeavour.