It seemed these things were popping up in multiple discussions as people like @Suzanne chased me about, so rather than continue the multiple hijacks, maybe putting them here will be more entertaining for everybody.  All I ask is that people be kind, and perhaps answer questions in turn.  These questions come from http://www.thinkatheist.com/forum/topics/mad-at-the-outcome-thought...

1. Why did you choose catholicism over all other religions?

Because it made the most sense to me on several levels.  I of course can't rule out cultural bias, since obviously I'm a westerner and Roman Christianity is culturally pervasive.  For me it was a conscious choice at some point, though I am not a convert.   Interestingly, if I were not Catholic I'd be more inclined to Judaism than the Protestant faiths.  Perhaps the shared intellectual depth of Judaism and Catholicism is a contributing factor.

2. Do you follow the decrees made by the Vatican?

The Vatican does not make "decrees".  The Holy See serves as the administrative center of the worldwide Catholic community, and we do have some administrative rules like any community (our technical term for these is "merely ecclesiastical laws").  For the rest, all we do is teach.

3. Do you agree or disagree with contraception being available to those who would choose to use contraception, if they had access?

I'm not sure why I should care.  Now sometimes when people say "being available" they mean that I should pay for it.  I think that's a different sort of question that belongs more in the realm of public policy.

4. How do you choose which parts of the bible to follow, and not follow.

We don't "follow" the Bible, we read it and refer to it, the way anyone does with a favorite book or reference text.  We try to "follow" God, perhaps, or the example of Jesus or other holy men or women, but not the Bible.  In teaching things or exploring religious ideas, we refer to a wide range of writings and experiences, including long oral tradition, writings of various scholars, journal articles, encyclicals, consensus documents, conciliar writings, etc., much like any intellectual community.

5. Is purgatory in or out, these days.

It's a theory that had moderate but not universal acceptance some centuries ago.  It's still referred to, but not anywhere near as widely as in its heyday.  So it never quite rose to the level of Newtonian Mechanics in physics in terms of acceptance as a theory, and it's perhaps fading faster, but like Newtonian Mechanics it's still referred to in some contexts. 

Tags: Bob, Catholic, Dr., Professor, Robert, Vatican, bible, purgatory, questions

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Julia Sweeny wanted to be an "alter person" and the priest she asked, (she was only 9 years old) said ,"don't be ridiculous." and slammed the door in her face.

Personally I couldn't care less what other people believe or do with their lives, as long as they do so in an honorable way towards everyone they meet. The church has been VERY dishonorable towards women.

Why does ANYone want to be a priest, to do little boys, of course!

It's interesting to me how this kind of comment seems to become more common the longer conversations go on.  It's another one of the psychological phenomenon I think.  

I used to see the same thing back during the civil rights era when I confronted racists.  Whenever rationality and kindness seemed to be breaking out, they'd revert to pointing out how individual blacks had committed rapes, crimes, murders, were illiterate or whatever, and then imply that they all were like that.  Sometimes directly, sometimes as off-color wink-and-nudge jokes like this.

Is that what you intend, I wonder?  Or is it just the psychological reaction to uncertainty?

@Milos: Well, that's understandable - girls have cooties - ask any 10-year old boy! It's always been my scientific opinion that boobs drive cooties away, as once a girl starts getting them, boys stop worrying about cooties.

And yet, if you read the full set of comments in context with an attention to nuance, instead of like some Fox News moron just looking to find anything out of context to support pre-existing ignorance, a different story emerges.

There are cultural and theological issues which make it hard for a worldwide Church to ordain women as priests, at least at this time.

"Cardinal" on the other hand is simply a title.  Tradition has it associated with ordained ministry but that's something that the pope can change more easily.  I don't know if Francis will go there or not; there are lots of other interesting options, but the clear intent of his signaling is a change in approach.

Wow, Mel! I've been off running errands today and am late getting back to the board, but great comment!

What distinguishes your own faith from a fancy form of Deism if you so readily throw the information out?

My personal faith is pretty traditionally Catholic, with an Ignatian spiritual approach.  Are you saying that Catholicism is just a fancy form of Deism?  Well, perhaps.  At least I expect our Fundamentalist Baptist brethren would call us that, when they weren't calling us the Anti-Christ.

As we go back to take a closer look at "miracles" that have already happened, can't we discount those, too?

If you have good, solid proof that one or more of them isn't true, then absolutely. 

Can you see the saints still being held holy in the future when we know that anyone exhibiting their actions today would be institutionalized and likely medicated?

John XXIII?  John Paul II?  Those are our most recent two, I think.   They both seem pretty sane to me, except for the latter when his Parkinson's had progressed so far. 

Would you stand for something so strongly that you would risk excommunication?

Certainly.  God comes first, and there are many stories of saints who led reforms within the Church.

At the same time, the risk of personal arrogance in such things is very high.  It's easy to become enamored of our own ideas and not see the possible problems or counter-arguments.  Worse, we can start getting wrapped up in our own self-righteousness.  

One of the reasons that we are part of communities, whether church or the scientific community, is that we value peer review.   We recognize that our own data isn't all data, that our own ideas might be flawed or just plain wrong.  We need and respect the broader community, even when we disagree strongly.  Sometimes our papers get rejected for publication.  We can choose to quit the discipline and go self-publish as Bourgeois did, but I'm not sure that really advances the field at all.

RE:

"As we go back to take a closer look at 'miracles' that have already happened, can't we discount those, too?"

"If you have good, solid proof that one or more of them isn't true, then absolutely."

I believe the burden of proof lies with the one making the claim --

Certainly.  If you have proof that they were false, share your evidence.  Falsification is the hallmark of science and indeed of other forms of rational thought as well.

I know you're not dense Bob, so your effort to reverse the charges won't fly. The burden of proof lies with the one claiming that a suspension of physical laws occurred, unless you have another definition of "miracle."

A person comes forward and says their life was changed by an event which drew them closer to God, and is inspiring others to draw closer to God.  That's what's significant. 

Now, the person could be delusional or out for publicity or somesuch, so that needs to be ruled out.  And the person could be attributing the cancer cure to God instead of the chemotherapy they received, so that needs to be ruled out, too.

Beyond that, the point is the testimony of the individual and others on the progress of their faith, not the suspension of physical laws.  The Creator of the Universe wrote those physical laws, so there's no reason to believe that any "suspension" is required at all, just mechanisms that we don't yet understand or outside of human control.

The miracle isn't that there was a shift in wind that blew the waters southward, allowing the lightly-loaded Israelites to cross while bogging down Pharaoh's chariots in mud.  The miracle is that it came when it did, and had such a profound and deep impact on the people there present that alone of all nomadic tribes of the time they survive as a single people to this day. 

"The miracle isn't that there was a shift in wind that blew the waters southward, allowing the lightly-loaded Israelites to cross while bogging down Pharaoh's chariots in mud.  The miracle is that it came when it did, and had such a profound and deep impact on the people there present that alone of all nomadic tribes of the time they survive as a single people to this day."

There is no evidence this ever happened, or that Moses ever existed.

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