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Several months ago, a friend emailed me a YouTube link on a set of videos by the Filipino Freethinkers society. The video was of a forum held at the de La Salle University where the society gave a talk about their version of what Catholicism is. In the style vaguely reminiscent of the anti-Catholic tirade of Protestant pastors, I was amused at how the lecture went because from the very start, the speaker, Mr. Raymond Tani, went from one topic to another without expounding or giving any fair amount of treatment to what he (wrongly) perceived to be the Catholic position on different matters. It was very revealing  right from the start of the talk that this was more about Catholic bashing on moral issues. Mr. Tani was very clear at the outset, he wanted those professed Catholics in the audience to doubt their faith after he was done. De La Salle claims to be a Catholic University so it puzzles me how an institution that claims to be one would allow wolves to pick sheep from its charge. The main target of their talk was Roman Catholicism and yet the critique they use to try to prove that the church and religious belief, in general, is superstitious is by cherry-picking scriptural passages, mostly from the Old Testament, that show the immorality of the ancient characters of scripture. They shoehorn these passages into current Catholic thought as though the Church supports or has supported these positions in the past. Topic after topic is wrought with calumnious generalizations that one will find it difficult to start tackling the issues.

After procrastinating long enough, I decided to write this and “clarify” for the sake of others and Mr. Tani, the untenable and rabid anti-Catholic position he espouses. Dinesh D’souza in his book entitled “What so great about Christianity” hits the nail on its had when he writes, “Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism.” Mr. Tani claims that he left the Catholic Church after reading the Old Testament story of the Egyptian captivity of the Jews. He could not stomach how a God would, as Pharaoh’s punishment, take all the first-born of Egypt. Really, that was the last straw that led you out of the faith and not the persistent guilt you said you felt whenever you, as you said, “masturbated?” I have never heard such inventive insincerity. Imagine a 20-something losing faith because of the Egyptian plague, that’s new. Methinks it had something to do with the m thing, moral conflict that is.

At any rate he goes on and boldly accuses the church of being stuck in moral issues like his m -habit, contraception and homosexuality while trivializing world hunger and social evils. Where does he get all these, from, ahem …La Salle, I hope not!  I believe that anyone who is honest, sincere and fair only has to Google for information and see that the Catholic church has the biggest charitable network in the world. Being a former Catholic, I am sure that he must have learned that we have such a thing we call as personal moral evils and social moral evils or personal sins and social sins. It is apparent that he does not see the connection between the two. The moral evil of illicit sexual behavior is traced from the lack of, what St. Thomas calls, the temperance of appetite. Isn’t the lack of temperance, like greed, after all the cause of many social evils? Isn’t greed the cause of strife and avarice and therefor starvation?

On the issue of morality and justice I am dumbstruck to hear a seemingly intelligent fellow say simplistically; “if you don’t do what God wants you to do, he will kill you.” I pity his view of God as punisher and it made me wonder whether his “enlightenment” was born out of true intellectual doubt or as D’souza says, “cowardly (moral guilt) escapism.”

No Catholic bashing is complete without touching on the church’s opposition to artificial contraception. He says that the refusal of the church to change her teaching on this moral issue is the reason the Philippines is still against the RHBill. The reason, he says, is the Church’s animosity towards science. He gives a brief and, albeit, ignorant account, of events that led to the encyclical Humanae Vitae.  His erroneous account of the events like the minority losing by a vote of 54-6 in favor of changing the church’s teaching on contraception and the conspiracy to maintain the teaching in spite of the advice of the members. The more accurate account is this: The members of the commission headed by Fr. de Riedmatten, as secretary general, did not have any voting powers. They were brought in as expert advisers to the Bishops and Cardinals, who themselves, had the voting powers to recommend changing the teaching. Of the 15 voting prelates, nine voted yes to change, three voted no and there were two abstentions and then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla was prevented from going to Rome by the communist (Atheist) authorities of Poland. It appeared that the majority commission favored change but that alone cannot compel the Pope to accede to their recommendations.

Mr. Tani, if you ever get to read this, let me ask you a few questions as it pertains to treatment of contraception in your talk:

  1. Do you consider yourself a fair and honest Freethinker?
  2. Have you read the actual proceedings of the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control including the accounts of Fr. John FordDr. Germain Grisez and Dr. William May?
  3. Have you read the papal encyclicals from  Pius XIPaul VI to Bl. John Paul II on the regulation of birth?
  4. If yes to no.3, would you be willing to comment on them as it pertains to your allegations regarding the church’s position on contraception? If no to no.3 skip to next line.
  5. How can you talk about that topic and claim to know what the church teaches?
  6. Have you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it pertains to masturbationcontraception and homosexuality?
  7. If yes, would you care to point out what parts seem erroneous to you as a former Catholic?

I ask these because of your sweeping and inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic Church’s position on them.

Let me enlighten Mr. Tani on the way it works. When the Pope has to decide on a moral issue as grave as this, it is not enough that he takes the recommendations …let me repeat RECOMMENDATION of theologians and lay experts on the matter, these are after all merely opinions. After much prayer and studying both sides of the matter, which may take many months or even years, he then makes a decision. Matters that have a grave effect on the moral and spiritual lives of people are even harder to decide on. This is especially true if the recommendations of the bishops he assigns are not unanimous. It is much like how in the court of law a murder conviction must be unanimously given by the jury. Why should we expect less for something that can be spiritually damaging to the souls of many?

He goes on and on about how Darwinian evolution has disproven the existence of Adam and Eve. Seriously? Mr. Tani thinks that the Church is into biblical literalism and that the creation narrative is to be taken literally. How can this be when in the first place, there were obviously no eyewitnesses to creation (where did he learn his Catholic faith?). Furthermore, the writers of the Old Testament were less concerned with scientific details (they were ignorant of them and neither were they writing a scientific manual) as they were with the message being imparted. They used a mix of different literary styles including, yes I admit, literalism, to describe certain events. One example of this absurdity that Mr. Tani dwells on is the description that a woman was formed out of one of Adam’s ribs. Trying to prove his point, he gives a revisionist account of a 16th  century Catholic anatomist, Andreas Vesalius’ life, claiming that the Catholic Church exiled him for being a heretic for discovering that men have an equal number of ribs thereby proving scripture wrong. Vesalius was neither proclaimed a heretic nor exiled and he spent his last years making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land which many biographers claim to be proof that he had a deep Catholic faith. It was simply a matter of Googling it and reading Wikipedia so I can’t help but think how dishonest Mr. Tani is here. Read it here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Vesalius

The issue of Christ’s divinity is questioned by Mr. Tani and he claims, with seeming authoritativeness that the “majority of critical scholars in the last hundred years thought Jesus to be  just an apocalyptic prophet.” Majority of critical scholars? Really? I suspect that Mr. Tani merely lifted this from Dr. Bart Ehrman or the work of the Jesus Seminar. My question to Mr. Tani is this; who else are included in this “majority of critical scholars” that you mention? When one makes that claim, one has to show evidence, not only of consensus but also of acceptance by the establishment. A little search of which scholars think of Jesus is merely apocalyptic prophet does not draw many names. The truth is, the majority of biblical scholars still hold to the view of Jesus as God and the bible as historically accurate. Mr. Tani knows that 99% of the audience would not bother to look up his claims or his “research” so I suspect he haphazardly lifts it from this from some sources and primarily from Bart Ehrmann’s : “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.” Bart Ehrmann, is a former Christian who sets himself up as a scholar but whose research methodology has been criticized by many of his pears. He has grown famous because of his ability to capitalize on the medias love of anti-Christian works. His various works have been dismantled by other apologists like Dinesh D’souza, William Lane Graig, Craig Evans, Michael Brown and the extremely anti-Catholic James White.

Mr. Tani also claims that the first person who translated the bible into English was burned at the stake. What hogwash! John Wycliff was the first person who translated the bible into English and while he was certainly a rebellious person and came into trouble with the church, he died of a stroke. His declaration as a heretic came after his death and had nothing to do with translating the bible into English but from holding to the idea of biblical primacy over the church. Read it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe

Any talk on the existence of God has to climaxes with a talk on theodicy, that is, why there evil and suffering in this world. Perhaps the strongest argument for the atheist’s position. Coming to this part of his talk he asks the “why’s” of suffering and evil. Rightly so, this is a topic that has beguiled men since the beginning. What got me was when he went into what he termed “useless suffering” and uses as an example the suffering of animals. Sheesh I though only one with a rational mind could suffer because from what I know, suffering is a conscious recognition of a lack of some good that we should have but are deprived of. Sure by definition animals feel pain but the pain animals feel does not have the experiential character that humans attribute to it. Yes animals suffer pain but only man experiences suffering. The conclusion that he wants to draw from the problem of evil is that there is no God.

We know that there are natural evils, i.e. calamities from natural phenomenon and there are evils that men suffer and do, i.e. sickness, death and sin. Natural calamities come from nature following the natural order of its laws. Tsunamis happen because of earthquakes and earthquakes happen because of plate tectonics. Hurricanes happen because of changes in ocean temperature. If we ask where God is in all these and why doesn’t he stop these from happening, aren’t we really asking for God to give us a discretionary universe making God some sort of a cosmic bell boy?

The universe God created is ordered not to be discretionary, meaning that this world runs without God having to intervene in every second. It is the same as when men do evil. God gave us free will to choose good versus evil. When we ask “God why didn’t you stop the bullet from hitting my child” what we are asking of God is to selectively intervene. God’s goodness cannot allow him to intervene only sometimes, that indeed would be a very biased and discretionary god who is wishy-washy. Either He intervenes all the time, in which case he rescinds his gift of free will and treats us like robots or he allows man to better himself by conversion, acceptance and prayer. The bigger reason is what St. Thomas Aquinas said, that God permits evil to bring out of it an even greater good. Many times we do not see that greater good because we think that it should necessarily apply only to us and within the context our short lifetime. The context with which we view our actions is so limited that we fail to see their long-term repercussions the way God sees it. This reminds me of the movie “There be Dragons” where the wayward and bitter Manolo serves to redeem the life of Josemaria and his very own son Roberto but we do not see this till the end of the movie (oops i didn’t mean to spoil it for you). We are like Manolo who, at various points in his life, could not figure out why things turn out the way they do, doing things aimlessly and full of resentment and bitterness. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear why Manolo had to be that way and how God used his wretchedness for the greater good of everyone. God is writing the movie we are only acting in it.

Slavery is another hot topic that atheists use to show that the church is evil or that the bible or Jesus was not whom He said He was. Mr. Tani’s argument is basically, why did God allow something as evil as slavery? Lets be clear, God allows many opportunities for man to become better and I think slavery was one of them. Every ancient culture, with maybe very few exceptions, practiced slavery in one form or another. While I think that any slave labor is bad, the common error we moderns make is to equate the unjust and unkind slavery we have seen in 16th century Europe and 19th century America where slaves had no rights, were treated as mere commodity and were abused by their masters to the institutional slavery of ancient cultures. Most of what we know and see about ancient slavery are from movies. In some ancient cultures, slaves were treated, yes as possessions, but also, hard to believe, as family members. Jesus tolerated this practice with the caveat that, “Whatsoever you do to this the least of my brethren, you do unto me.” Far from condoning maltreatment, Jesus introduced a new idea that if you want to be My follower,  you have to give up your worldliness and you have to “love others as I have loved you.” Nearly 2000 years later, most of the civilized world has given up the practice of slavery all because of the Christian ideal that we are all equal in God’s eyes. Yes, humans are slow learners …very slow. FYI Mr. Tani, Pope Leo XIII wrote two encyclicals, CATHOLICAE ECCLESIAE and IN PLURIMIS,  condemning slavery, again further proof that Mr. Tani is erroneous in his allegations.

Mr. Tani also falsely claims that the abolitionist movement was started by a Freethinker …sorry Mr. Tani, you wish! The abolition of slavery was not a single movement. It was a slow process that spread from Catholic Europe and culminated in the Abolitionist movement in the United States. It was Spain, Catholic Spain that is, that first enacted the abolition of colonial slavery in 1542 (that is why there were no Filipino slaves under their rule as opposed to slavery during the time of the Datus). By the 17th century, it had gained ground and the Quakers were largely responsible for starting this movement in the United States. As for Mr. Tani’s claim that the Freethinkers were responsible for this, they were not even on board until the 18th century and working within the framework of equality (which was a concept borrowed from Christianity), they criticized slavery. For a better treatment of the abolition of slavery read this:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism#Notable_opponents_of_slavery

The claim that the church had an animosity towards science is also the favorite bashing ground of anti-Catholics. Mr. Tani tries to prove this imagined animosity by giving a few examples of trials and quotations. His failure is this; the trials of scientists (Galileo Galilei is their favorite) is often a trial for teaching dubious theology rather than a trial of their scientific findings. Galileo’s biggest sponsors were the Pope and some Cardinals of the curia but when he tried to espouse changing theological thought based on his correct (but faulty) theory of heliocentrism, the Church said whoa stick to your science and don’t dabble in theology. Galileo is not without fault either. Rather than acceding to that, he writes a story parodying the Pope as an imbecile. Proof of the fact that the church has no animosity to heliocentrism is the fact that Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler was never punished and yet you will not hear Mr. Tani mention this. He merely cherry-picks through writings of anti-Catholic Protestants and purvey it as accurate. Mr. Tani, given that you Freethinkers proudly exclaim your worship of rational thought, evidence and science, we would appreciate some of it applied to what you say for the sake of honest inquiry.

Did the church promote small pox as punishment? Mr Tani likes to quote heavily on what the Catholic Church said about small pox at a time when even medical practitioners thought bloodletting was an effective treatment and a festering wounds was a sign of healing. What he doesn’t say is most other Christian denominations, as well as most lay people, also fell into this superstition. The question is did anyone know any better? The answer is certainly No. Not until Louis Pasteur, who was a Catholic by the way, discovered the vaccine to Rabies and thus ushering a new breakthrough in medicine did the world advance against diseases of this sort. A fact he does not include is that Catholic missions started using vaccines to vaccinate against small pox as early as the 19th century.  Isn’t it outright dishonesty for this Freethinker to caricature the Catholic church in a bad light at a time when no one, not even doctors, knew any better.

With a little diligence, Mr. Tani would have discovered that the system of hospitals and nursing care started with the Catholic church. Ever wonder why nurses have that white headdress? It is a carry over of the nun’s headdress because once upon a time, nuns ran hospitals and cared for the sick and some still do. Mr. Tani omits this in an effort to show how backward the church is or how antagonistic the church is to science, however, historical evidence will prove otherwise. The only question is if he is honest enough to look at this evidence!

In the last five minutes of the video Mr. Tani inadvertently makes a slip. He talks about the clerical abuse scandals and says that in the Philippines we don’t really have that problem because …get this, are you listening …because WE ARE CATHOLIC! I was floored by his comment. His self-contradiction or worse his feeling his way through the “facts” is so apparent. He goes on and says that the Vatican never owned up to the abuse problem and that the Vatican has given other reasons like the “smoke of Satan has entered the church” or that the abuse is just as bad as women’s ordination. For heavens sake my boy get your information correct and your quotes straight. That phrase is from a homily delivered by Pope Paul VI on the occasion of the feast day of St. Peter and Paul back in 1972! Pope Paul VI was referring to other things in this homily and was long dead before this scandal broke out. I point you to the following website that shows that the Vatican does not ignore this problem http://www.vatican.va/resources/index_en.htm.

Mr. Tani’s cheap-shots at the Church does not do his organization proud. It cheapens it. Perhaps we should rename him as a cheapthinker instead.