Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Amoris Laetitia

I just finished reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The access to the .pdf file is here. It is a culmination of two years of Vatican-sponsored meetings and input concerning the family. With the explosion of the number of divorces, there has been an increasing pressure from liberals (progressives) to change the Church’s response to those who have divorced and remarried. This is especially because these persons are not allowed to partake of the Eucharist in the mass. The divorced complained that a repentant murderer can receive communion while they can’t. On the conservative (traditionalist) side, marriage is held as a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to His church, and therefore indissoluble. One of my own interests is from the viewpoint of how women are treated by the Church, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some understanding.

Pope Francis agrees to the Christ-Church-marriage comparison, but with the understanding that people are not as perfect as Christ and therefore their marriages will not be perfect. The pope continues to hold up a good marriage as a difficult but attainable goal, worthy of all its efforts. Yet he asks for the mercy of those who interact with married couples and for the divorced and re-married Catholics who feel ostracized by not being allowed communion. The pope maintains these people are not excommunicated and should not be made to feel as such. To conservatives who don’t want change, any thought of giving them communion is a liberal viewpoint that they fear will lead to a downhill slide of the entire institution of marriage.

I found some of the most refreshing sentences in the whole exhortation Amoris Laetitia to be in Section 36 and 37. In 36, Pope Francis comments on the overbearing emphasis of Church leaders on procreation that made Catholicism seem more about having the maximum amount of children instead of focusing on the divinity of Jesus Christ. The section has this sentence:
Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation.
Then, speaking of clergy, in 37 Pope Francis wrote: 
We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are ca­pable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.
How refreshing this is in contrast to the effort to control people.

Another section I like is 54, which speaks of women’s rights. It says emancipation of women is not to be blamed for all the woes of marriage. The pope writes:
If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.
Thank goodness. Let us hope this is a dawn finally of a new worldview about women. I’m not saying women always will make the right decisions or discern correctly, but I believe we can be as capable as men of doing so.

It remains to be seen what will actually happen in response to the paper. The Germans have been chafing at the bit to make changes, as are progressive groups of priests in Ireland and the US. But the tensions persist because there are plenty of conservatives up in arms. One is a cannon lawyer, Cardinal Raymond Burke. He wrote an article in the conservative National Catholic Register about Amoris Laetitia, (link here) basically saying that bishops and priests don’t really have to follow it. Conservative bloggers are complaining, as seen in this post with links to others (Rorate Caeli here).

Pope Francis, though he says he encourages dialogue, has in turn had some pretty harsh words for conservatives (article here). The tensions are simmering and though it is rather fascinating to watch, it is not good for the Church to be mired in disagreements. When Catholics, leaders or lay, are so diverse, we need to pray for discernment. I’ve found, though, that persons can be so tied to one worldview, they can’t imagine any other having merits. This is a block to listening to other people.

However, what happens when different people are convinced the Holy Spirit is leading each of them but in different ways? Then we obviously have a problem of understanding exactly how the Holy Spirit leads and what He is leading toward. It may be that we need to consider what each other is saying and seek God’s will in mutual prayer. Hopefully we can all improve in discernment together.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Discernment's Center

Why is it wrong for a Christian to claim that everyone is a child of God? After all, we believe one God (in the form of a Trinity of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) created the universe and ultimately all humans. What many seem to be missing is that even though we are all created in God’s image, He gives a specific path for acceptance as His children. And this power is given through faith in the Son. Jesus Christ, Who came to the world, lived a perfect life, died and rose for our sins. God wants us to recognize that we sin and that our salvation comes through Christ. And God wants us to tell this to everyone we can--not to leave others in ignorance of Him.

In the Bible, John 1:12 (NABRE) says we are allowed to be children of God if we believe in the Word, Jesus Christ:
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…
In my opinion, this viewpoint can be seen only one way.

There are those who think God will accept everyone. Though we might think that persons who never heard of Christ may be allowed into His kingdom, we must remember that if we have heard of Him we have to evaluate our own faith. If you believe it doesn’t matter what religion other persons are, your own faith and therefore discernment are in trouble. Those who have the opportunity to know Jesus and shrug Him off as one of many choices are worse off than those who have never heard of Him. It is God’s business to decide who comes into His kingdom; it is our job to recognize that for those who do fully know about Him, belief in Christ is the only way to heaven.

This subject relates to another: many people want to see world peace, which we think of as certainly a worthy cause. Especially for those affected by war, it may seem of primary importance. Yet some Christians hold the importance of Earthly peace so high that their worldview seems to put it even above the centrality of Christianity. Here again we have the idea put forth that all religions have the same God, all are children of God. But if you believe Christianity as the only True answer, worldly peace is secondary to evangelization. We must carry the message so all can know Christ, even if it means worldly tensions.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis claims to seek discernment. Discernment is a method by which a person determines his or her vocation, and also a life-long quest to seek God’s will. The Jesuits are a religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In 1522-1524 Ignatius wrote recommendations for spiritual discernment in his book, The Spiritual Exercises. Through this, the members make great effort to tune themselves toward discernment of God’s will.

However, it has been shown that sometimes those who believe they are experts of God’s will have been wrong in their discernment. For example, this article (link HERE) from the New York Times describes the treatment of human slaves by Jesuits who ran Georgetown University in the 1800’s. They owned slaves and then sold these humans to plantation owners of the deeper South in order to financially save the school. Though slavery was legal at the time, it should not have been considered a moral choice by the Jesuits—those who claimed to know the will of the Lord. Even though the Bible mentions slavery, St. Paul was advising those who had to endure it due to outside influences, not endorsing it as a Christian institution. And the end--a solvent school--did not justify the means. Often when we are confronted with challenges, God will come through if we go to Him and wait for Him. They did not have to own or sell slaves.

Of course, we can't read their minds and as the article shows, some of the Jesuits did know that slavery was wrong but did not have the power to follow their consciences. Was the president of the university somehow deviated from the centrality of Christ alone? The secular Enlightenment was to eventually effect many so-called Christians in disbelieving Christ's miracles and even His divinity, reducing Him to a sage. Perhaps that worldview was already affecting the Jesuit academia. And Christ centered-ness is just the first step to proper efforts in discernment. Also we can have problems with pride or stubbornness which keeps us from considering other points of view.

Pope Francis seems to want Christianity both ways. He speaks of the need for only Christ for salvation (example HERE) but at other times telling everyone that we are all children of God, we all have the same God, or similar phrases (example HERE). He holds world peace very highly and wants to see all people get along. But this is simply not the same as putting Christ at the center. The view that it does not matter what you believe is called “Indifferentism” and at least sometimes seems to be held by the pope as well as many other Catholics.

Why is it central to being a Christian to believe in Christ for our Salvation? God gives us free will, and all humans have fallen short of perfection except for Christ. Our own sins should bring us to humility when we recognize them. The Father is just as well as merciful and imperfection of sins would keep the sinner ostracized from God's presence. The Father has chosen belief in Christ to be our doorway to Him. As stated above, Christ lived a perfect life and then died for our sins. Jesus should be given the credit for that, just as we want to be credited for our own achievements. But I believe some Catholics, as other Christians, are too casual about sins, the need for Christ for one’s redemption, and about faith in Him in order to go to heaven.

I believe that in order to have right discernment, the central starting point is belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Then we can be guided by God to wisdom in other areas. When we really believe this, our love for others should lead us to tell them about Christ, what He did for us, and that we all need to repent and believe that He, and only He, is our Savior.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

God's Not Dead 2

I went to see the movie God’s Not Dead 2 (GND2). I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I won’t write out the whole plot. But I will tell you that it was about a high school teacher who was sued by the ACLU for answering a question about Jesus Christ, using Scripture, in class. The website and trailer for the movie is HERE.

If you saw the first God’s Not Dead (GND) movie, you will recognize similarities. GND was about a student who was maligned by a college professor because he would not deny God in the classroom. So both movies are about perceived oppression of Christians in academic settings.

Though some may not believe Christians are being oppressed in our country, the credits of the movie show there can be a price to pay when people stand up for what they believe. One real life example I will give is the backlash of the exposé done by David Daleiden against Planned Parenthood. He secretly filmed PP employees talking cold-bloodedly about selling body parts of fetuses, among other shocking images. But it was Daleiden who was indicted in Texas for his undercover credentials and recently raided by California DOJ officers who confiscated his computers and videos (link of article HERE).

Daleiden's example can be linked with academia because the parts of fetuses go to trained researchers either at universities or in commercial settings. The academic worldview is very often the antithesis of Christianity, even though the medical disciplines do have a noble goal of curing people. They say they are about science and reason and not the "superstitious" religious beliefs. Perhaps that is what justifies their actions in their own minds, and the lines may not always be as clearly drawn as the GND2 movie implies. But cures can be found in other ways and it is imperative that everyone realize the humanity of those who are being killed.

Now, you might say Daleiden was breaking the law in his underground investigation. But  consider that a pastor in GND2 says we are in a spiritual war. Non-Christians often see a statement like this as way too overblown. Christians may not always realize where the war is taking place. But the pastor is right, and the people who made the movie, among many others, are in the middle of the battle. When the laws can be unjust, spiritual warriors do not always follow the laws.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Protein Levels

Proteins do much of the work of the cell, the basic biological unit. Proteins are made of subunits called amino acids, which in turn are made of atoms.

There are thousands of different kinds of proteins. I have posted previously about a set of proteins that work together, called ATP Synthase (ATPS, pronounced ATP sin-thase). The set acts together in this energy production machine. All organisms have ATPS (with the exception of viruses which are parasites and so benefit from ATPS indirectly).

Though I have pictures of ATPS elsewhere, I am putting this picture in my blog because it shows in one view the detail from three levels. The one on the upper left is the whole machine, a picture by David Goodsell at the link HERE. The next in line is the makeup of the amino acids in just one part of the machine (represented by their single letter symbols), which can be found at a protein database Uniprot HERE. As you can see, it is made up of 460 amino acids which have to be in correct order for the ATPS machine to work. (The database number here is for humans, but E. coli have the same number and the reference is P0ABB4). The next is a picture of the atomic arrangement of one amino acid (atoms are represented by their own separate letters).

If you are interested, you can see in a video at the link HERE how ATPS operates when protons flow through it because of an electrochemical gradient. The video lasts less than 4 minutes. The molecule that it makes is called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate (ah-den-oh-seen try-phosphate). This molecule is used to make proteins and DNA among other uses. Here is a picture of it:

Beyond the ATPS, other molecules are needed to set up the proton gradient that makes it work (seen at the same link HERE).

Some proteins can handle a few changes of amino acids, but some positions can't be changed or the protein will not work.

These proteins did not come about by chance, even in billions of years.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is very much in the news and on Internet chatter. The BLM group asserts that black people are treated differently by police than whites. I’d like to share on my blog a similar comment about BLM to what I made on the Catholic Answers Forums website.

Some people are very unhappy with the BLM movement, equating it with bad behavior of blacks against police. Others sympathize with the blacks and believe their complaints that they are treated differently than whites by officers. Who is right? I don't believe we are getting to the bottom of racial divides.

Many people take for granted that the black race came from non-humans in Africa and then groups of individuals came North and evolved further into the white race. I have read a scientific paper from a major journal (Science, abstract here) where a group of black people are assumed to be less evolved than whites in order to determine the mode of evolution of biological molecules (further information about the research here). It seems there is no other way to say it but that some whites believe they are more evolved than blacks. Would that not cause some very bad feelings among the blacks? Would the Black Lives Matter’s group have some reason to believe they are treated in a different manner, such as in this history of Planned Parenthood eugenics? It could be that blacks and whites both are affected in their behaviors by this common mindset, perhaps subconsciously but in some cases blatantly.

However, if a person believes in direct supernatural creation of humans by God, s/he has no question of who is most evolved: no human is significantly different from any other human.

I treat these themes, among others, in my book, Biotech Swirl. I encourage you to read this FREE BOOK which you can reach at the link HERE or clicking on the picture of the book in the right column. Download it and/or read it online. Literature often helps us think about these issues and I hope this book may do so for you.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

First Matters

On his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Francis made a symbolic gesture at a memorial for persons who cross the border into the US, many of whom do it illegally. On the way back home, the Pope held a press conference in the plane (link here). One reporter asked him about the US presidential candidate Donald Trump and his stand on building a wall to keep immigrants out. The Pope responded, “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

The statement by the Pope was, unsurprisingly, greeted by Trump with defensiveness. The Republican candidate for president responded, “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful” (link here). A little later, Trump was more conciliatory, saying the Pope was unaware of the drug and other problems on the border (link here).

I have been to Mexico a few times and to El Salvador and have seen some very bad living conditions. The poor are exposed to the elements and to those who would prey upon them. They may not even have a door for a secure lock, or may lack solid walls for windows.

But I want to move on to another point that comes from this short clash between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. That is, what it takes to be a Christian. The Pope has said some things about that lately that bother me though I can’t say I’m completely surprised. That is because those who are so intently focused on the poor often seem to veer off the straight and narrow of Christian beliefs. They look at the rest of the world and say to themselves that God wouldn’t send all these people to hell just because they don’t believe. So they set aside the prime necessity of believing in and evangelizing to the world about Jesus Christ.

The Pope always picks a subject for prayer intention for the month. In January, the first video made for a prayer intention was about inter-faith dialogue (link here). Pope Francis seems to minimize the differences between the faiths and says right out that “There is only one certainty we have for all. We are all Children of God.”

But this is not what the Bible says. In John, Chapter 1, it states that only those who believe in the Word made flesh (Jesus Christ) are to be called Children of God. (John 1: 12, NABRE):
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…
I’d like to see some changes in the Church. I’d like barrier contraception to be accepted, since right now it is regarded as evil on the basis of women having no intellect and being good only for reproduction (Thomas Aquinas). I’d like to see women become deacons of the church since the sacrament is denied to them and I don’t believe that is right. There are many Catholics who are progressive concerning changes about women and immigrants. I’d like to see conservatives more interested in these things, and maybe there are more who are so than I realize. I don’t understand why traditional Catholics who are loyal to the doctrine of the Church are often also heavy-handed about any change in women’s status and seem aloof to the problems of immigrants. There must be Catholics out there who hold to the supremacy of Jesus Christ and yet can see some need for change in other areas. After all, Christ wanted us to be compassionate to our neighbors. (It's interesting by the way that the extremes are labeled "left" and "right" which suggests each of them veering off from the "straight and narrow.")

BUT FIRST we must believe that Christ died for our sins and gives everlasting life with Him in that way. This is a serious matter and something to hold onto no matter what Pope Francis wants us to pray for and no matter what lesser changes in the Catholic Church we might like to see.

BY FAR the most important aspect of the Catholic Church is for every Christian to assume that belief in Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for heaven and proceed in that manner. This includes telling others as well as we can about Jesus Christ and that He died for our sins and we need to believe in Him if we want everlasting life with Him.

Whatever else we do we must first be well-anchored in our faith.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Year of Mercy

The Zika virus is a threat to anyone bitten by the mosquito that carries it. It is especially worrisome to women (and therefore couples) who are pregnant or may be trying to become pregnant. Doctors have also found that having sex may cause transmission of the virus (link HERE).

Governments, including the US, are warning about the virus and in that vein are suggesting the use of barrier contraceptives.

Of course, this raises the hackles of anyone who thinks that contraception is an intrinsic evil. There can be no exceptions to the rule. But these persons ideas are formed by Natural Law, in turn formed by celibate males. Look, for example, at St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the major players in the direction of thought on this subject. In his greatest book, Summa Theologica, the question is asked whether women should have even been made in the first generation of things, since she is so inferior. In Part I, Question 92, Article 1, Aquinas replies:

I answer that, It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a "helper" to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation… But man [as opposed to woman] is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation. Therefore there was greater reason for the distinction of these two forces in man; so that the female should be produced separately from the male; although they are carnally united for generation. Therefore directly after the formation of woman, it was said: "And they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

In other words, women are good for reproduction and nothing else. Whereas I find myself thinking that God gave me a brain just for the very reason of thinking. And I imagine other women are able to think also. Well, you get my point.

It is certainly appropriate for the Church Leaders to give guidelines in some things and make definitive pronouncements in others, but they need to discern which is which. We all need to learn more discernment. (If we all knew exactly what God wanted we wouldn’t have all these different denominations.)

If the Catholic Church learned to talk with women who take contraceptives instead of hurling the words “intrinsically evil” at them, they may learn a few things. The Church leaders want women to have as many children as possible, while the women may be hearing a different calling from God. And we might all come to an understanding that barrier contraception is a lot more like NFP than abortifacient contraception. Perhaps we could come to more of a resolution than having most Catholic women either hiding their actions or leaving the Church.

Let us remember that Mary, mother of Jesus, was called directly (through an angel) by God. He did not consult with her religious leaders or her parents or even her husband to be. And she answered God directly (through an angel). She did not consult with her religious leaders or her parents or her husband to be. And though the Church insists she was the perfect mother, it also insists she never had sex with her husband nor produced more than one child.

It has been declared the Year of Mercy by Pope Francis. Let the couple seek God's will, which will be what is best for them. To the Church, teach discernment instead of dictating. It is time to be merciful indeed.