Freedom of speech is a great thing. Unfortunately, it comes at an unavoidable
price: When citizens are free to say what they want, they’ll sometimes use that
freedom to say some pretty silly things. And that’s the case with the 12 claims
we’re about to cover.
Some of them are made over and over, others are rare.
Either way, while the proponents of these errors are free to promote them, we as
Catholics have a duty to respond.
1. “There’s no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for you may not be
true for me.”
People use this
argument a lot when they disagree with a statement and have no other way to
support their idea. After all, if nothing is true for everyone, then they
can believe whatever they want and there’s nothing you can say to make them
change their minds.
But look at that statement again: “There’s no such thing as absolute truth.”
Isn’t that, in itself, a statement that’s being made absolutely? In other
words, it applies some rule or standard to everyone across the board —
exactly what the relativists say is impossible. They have undone their own
argument simply by stating their case.
The other problem with this statement is that no relativist actually
believes it. If someone said to you, “There is no absolute truth,” and you
punched him in the stomach, he’d probably get upset. But by his own creed,
he’d have to accept that while punching someone in the stomach may be wrong
for him, it might not be wrong for you.
This is when they’ll come back with an amendment to the original statement
by saying, “As long as you’re not hurting others, you’re free to do and
believe what you like.” But this is an arbitrary distinction (as well as
another absolute statement). Who says I can’t hurt others? What constitutes
“hurt”? Where does this rule come from?
If this statement is made based on personal preference, it means nothing for
anyone else. “Do no harm” is in itself an appeal to something greater — a
sort of universal dignity for the human person. But again, the question is
where does this dignity come from?
As you can see, the further you delve into these questions, the closer you
come to understanding that our concepts of right and truth are not arbitrary
but are based in some greater, universal truth outside ourselves — a truth
written in the very nature of our being. We may not know it in its entirety,
but it can’t be denied that this truth exists.
2. “Christianity is no better than any other faith. All religions lead to
If you haven’t
heard this one a dozen times, you don’t get out much. Sadly enough, the
person making this claim is often himself a Christian (at least, in name).
The problems with this view are pretty straightforward. Christianity makes a
series of claims about God and man: That Jesus of Nazareth was God Himself,
and that he died and was resurrected — all so that we might be free from our
sins. Every other religion in the world denies each of these points. So, if
Christianity is correct, then it speaks a vital truth to the world — a truth
that all other religions reject.
This alone makes Christianity unique.
But it doesn’t end there. Recall Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but
by me.” In Christianity, we have God’s full revelation to humanity. It’s
true that all religions contain some measure of truth — the amount varying
with the religion. Nevertheless, if we earnestly want to follow and worship
God, shouldn’t we do it in the way He prescribed?
If Jesus is indeed God, then only Christianity contains the fullness of this
3. “The Old and New Testaments contradict one another in numerous places. If
an omnipotent God inspired the Bible, He would never have allowed these errors.”
This is a common
claim, one found all over the internet (especially on atheist and
free-thought websites). An article on the American Atheists website notes
that “What is incredible about the Bible is not its divine authorship; it’s
that such a concoction of contradictory nonsense could be believed by anyone
to have been written by an omniscient God.”
Such a statement is generally followed by a list of Biblical
“contradictions.” However, claims of contradictions make a few simple
errors. For example, critics fail to read the various books of the Bible in
line with the genre in which they were written. The Bible is, after all, a
collection of several kinds of writing...history, theology, poetry,
apocalyptic material, etc. If we try to read these books in the same wooden
way in which we approach a modern newspaper, we’re going to be awfully
And the list of Bible “contradictions” bears this out. Take, for example,
the first item on the American Atheist’s list:
Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day
alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:5
atheist cries, A clear contradiction. But what the critic neglects to
mention is something every Christian knows: When Christ instituted the New
Covenant, the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant were fulfilled
(and passed away). And so it makes perfect sense that Old Testament
ceremonial rules would no longer stand for the people of the New Covenant.
If the critic had understood this simple tenet of Christianity, he wouldn’t
have fallen into so basic an error.
The next item on the American Atheist list is similarly flawed:
abideth for ever.” Ecclesiastes 1:4
“...the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the
works that are therein shall be burned up.”
So, the Old
Testament claims that the earth will last forever, while the New says it
will eventually be destroyed. How do we harmonize these? Actually, it’s
pretty easy, and it again comes from understanding the genre in which these
two books were written.
Ecclesiastes, for example, contrasts secular and religious worldviews — and
most of it is written from a secular viewpoint. That’s why we find lines
like, “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers
everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19)
However, at the end of the book, the writer throws us a twist, dispensing
with all the “wisdom” he’d offered and telling us to “Fear God, and keep his
commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13)
If a reader stops before the end, he’ll be as confused as the critic at
American Atheists. However, since the viewpoint that gave birth to the
notion of an eternal earth is rejected in the last lines of the book,
there’s obviously no contradiction with what was later revealed in the New
Testament. (And this is just one way to answer this alleged discrepancy.)
The other “contradictions” between the Old and New Testaments can be
answered similarly. Almost to an item, the critics who use them confuse
context, ignore genre, and refuse to allow room for reasonable
No thinking Christian should be disturbed by these lists.
4. “I don’t need to go to Church. As long as I’m a good person, that’s all
that really matters.”
This argument is
used often, and is pretty disingenuous. When someone says he’s a “good
person,” what he really means is that he’s “not a bad person” — bad people
being those who murder, rape, and steal. Most people don’t have to extend a
lot of effort to avoid these sins, and that’s the idea: We want to do the
least amount of work necessary just to get us by. Not very Christ-like, is
But that mentality aside, there’s a much more important reason why Catholics
go to Church other than just as an exercise in going the extra mile. Mass is
the cornerstone of our faith life because of what lies at its heart: the
Eucharist. It’s the source of all life for Catholics, who believe that bread
and wine become the real body and blood of Christ. It’s not just a symbol of
God, but God made physically present to us in a way we don’t experience
through prayer alone.
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son
of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh
and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last
day” (John 6:53-54). We’re honoring Jesus’ command and trusting in that
promise every time we go to Mass.
What’s more, the Eucharist — along with all the other Sacraments — is only
available to those in the Church. As members of the Church, Christ’s visible
body here on earth, our lives are intimately tied up with the lives of
others in that Church. Our personal relationship with God is vital, but we
also have a responsibility to live as faithful members of Christ’s body.
Just being a “good person” isn’t enough.
5. “You don’t need to confess your sins to a priest. You can go straight to
As a former
Baptist minister, I can understand the Protestant objection to confession
(they have a different understanding of priesthood). But for a Catholic to
say something like this...it’s disappointing. I suspect that, human nature
being what it is, people just don’t like telling other people their sins,
and so they come up with justifications for not doing so.
The Sacrament of Confession has been with us from the beginning, coming from
the words of Christ Himself:
to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I
send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to
them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are
forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John
Notice that Jesus gives His apostles the power to forgive sins. Of course,
they wouldn’t know which sins to forgive if they weren’t told what
sins were involved.
The practice of confession is also evident in the Letter Of James:
“Is any among
you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray
over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer
of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if
he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins
to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
that nowhere does James (or Jesus) tell us to confess our sins to God alone.
Rather, they seem to think that forgiveness comes through some means of
And it’s not difficult to understand why. You see, when we sin, we rupture
our relationship not just with God, but with His Body, the Church (since all
Catholics are interconnected as children of a common Father). So when we
apologize, we need to do so to all parties involved — God and the
Think of it this way. Imagine you walk into a store and steal some of their
merchandise. Later, you feel remorse and regret the sinful act. Now, you can
pray to God to forgive you for breaking His commandment. But there’s still
another party involved; you’ll need to return the merchandise and make
restitution for your action.
It’s the same way with the Church. In the confessional, the priest
represents God and the Church, since we’ve sinned against both. And
when he pronounces the words of absolution, our forgiveness is complete.
6. “If the Church truly followed Jesus, they’d sell their lavish art,
property, and architecture, and give the money to the poor.”
When some people
think of Vatican City, what they immediately picture is something like a
wealthy kingdom, complete with palatial living accommodations for the pope
and chests of gold tucked away in every corner, not to mention the fabulous
collection of priceless art and artifacts. Looking at it that way, it’s easy
to see how some people would become indignant at what they think is an
ostentatious and wasteful show of wealth.
But the truth is something quite different. While the main buildings are
called the “Vatican Palace,” it wasn’t built to be the lavish living
quarters of the pope. In fact, the residential part of the Vatican is
relatively small. The greater portion of the Vatican is given over to
purposes of art and science, administration of the Church’s official
business, and management of the Palace in general. Quite a number of Church
and administrative officials live in the Vatican with the pope, making it
more like the Church’s main headquarters.
As for the impressive art collection, truly one of the finest in the world,
the Vatican views it as “an irreplaceable treasure,” but not in monetary
terms. The pope doesn’t “own” these works of art and couldn’t sell them if
he wanted to; they’re merely in the care of the Holy See. The art doesn’t
even provide the Church with wealth; actually, it’s just the opposite. The
Holy See invests quite a bit of its resources into the upkeep of the
The truth of the matter is that the See has a fairly tight financial budget.
So why keep the art? It goes back to a belief in the Church’s mission (one
of many) as a civilizing force in the world. Just like the medieval monks
who carefully transcribed ancient texts so they would be available to future
generations — texts that otherwise would have been lost forever — the Church
continues to care for the arts so they will not be forgotten over time. In
today’s culture of death where the term “civilization” can only be used
loosely, the Church’s civilizing mission is as important today as it ever
7. “Dissent is actually a positive thing, since we should all keep our minds
open to new ideas.”
You might hear
this argument a lot today, especially in the wake of the abuse scandal in
the Church. Everyone wants to find a solution to the problem, and in doing
so some people are advocating ideas that are outside the pale of our
Catholic faith (i.e., women priests, being open to homosexuality, etc). A
lot of people blame the Church for being too rigid in its beliefs and not
wanting to try anything new.
The truth is, a lot of the ideas for reform that are floating around today
aren’t new. They’ve been around for a while, and the Church has already
considered them. In fact, the Church has spent its entire life carefully
examining ideas and determining which ones are in line with God’s law and
which aren’t. It has discarded heresy after heresy while carefully building
up the tenets of the Faith. It should come as no surprise that there are
thousands of other Christian churches in existence today — all of them had
“new ideas” at one point that the Church had decided were outside the
deposit of faith.
The Church has an important responsibility in protecting the integrity of
our Faith. It never rejects ideas out of hand, as some dissenters would
claim, but has two thousand years of prayer and study behind the beliefs it
holds to be true.
This doesn’t mean that we can never disagree on anything. There’s always
room to discuss how best to deepen our understanding of the truth — for
example, how we can improve our seminaries or clergy/lay interactions — all
within the guidelines of our Faith.
8. “Properly interpreted, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Rather,
it weighs against promiscuity — whether homosexual or heterosexual. Therefore,
we have no reason to oppose loving homosexual relationships.”
activity gains greater acceptance in our culture, there’ll be more pressure
among Christians to explain away the Bible’s clear prohibition against it.
It’s now the standard liberal party line to claim that the Bible — when
understood correctly — doesn’t disallow homosexual activity.
But this claim flies in the face of clear passages in both the Old and New
Testaments. The first, of course, is the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
If you recall, two angels were sent by God to Sodom to visit Lot:
[the angels] lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young
and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they
called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them
out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out of the door to the men,
shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act
so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me
bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to
these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they
said, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came to sojourn, and he
would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’
Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the
door. But the men put forth their hands and brought Lot into the house
to them, and shut the door.” (Genesis 19:4-10)
The message of
this passage is pretty clear. The men of Sodom were homosexuals who wanted
to have relations with the men inside the house. Lot offered them his
daughters, but they weren’t interested. Shortly thereafter, Sodom was
destroyed by God in payment for the sins of its people — namely, their
homosexual acts. This fact is confirmed in the New Testament:
Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted
immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by
undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7)
certainly aren’t the only passages in the Bible that condemn gay activity.
The Old Testament contains another unambiguous condemnation: “You shall not
lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22).
And these statements aren’t reserved to the Old Testament alone.
reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged
natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural
relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men
committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons
the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)
It’s awfully hard
for a liberal Christian to explain this away. There’s simply no mention here
merely of gay promiscuity or rape; rather, Paul is weighing against any
homosexual relations (which he describes as “unnatural,” “shameless” and
Liberal Christians are in a bind. How, after all, does one harmonize
homosexuality with the Bible? Their solution, it appears, is to strip the
Bible of its moral power, and run in rhetorical circles trying to escape its
9. “Catholics should follow their conscience in all things...whether it’s
abortion, birth control, or women’s ordination.”
It’s true — the
Catechism says quite plainly, “Man has the right to act in conscience
and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be
forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from
acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters’”
(1782). This teaching is at the heart of what it means to have free will.
But that doesn’t mean that our conscience is free from all responsibility or
can be ignorant of God’s law. This is what the Catechism refers to as
having a “well-formed conscience.”
The Catechism assigns great responsibility to a person’s conscience:
conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the
appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil.... It bears witness to
the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the
human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens
to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (1777).
In other words, our conscience isn’t just “what we feel is right”; it’s what
we judge to be right based on what we know of the teachings of God and the
Church. And in order to make that judgment, we have a responsibility to
study and pray over these teachings very carefully. The Catechism has
a section dedicated entirely to the careful formation of our conscience —
that’s how important it is in making right decisions.
And in the end, whether right or wrong, we’re still held accountable for our
actions: “Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts
performed” (1781). When properly formed, it helps us to see when we’ve done
wrong and require forgiveness of our sins.
By seeking a fully-formed conscience, we actually experience great freedom,
because we’re drawing closer to God’s infinite Truth. It’s not a burden or
something that keeps us from doing what we want; it’s a guide to help us do
what is right. “The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and
engenders peace of heart” (1784).
10. “Natural Family Planning is just the Catholic version of birth control.”
Planning (NFP) has enemies on all sides. Some believe that it’s an
unrealistic alternative to birth control (which they don’t think is sinful
anyway) while others think that it’s just as bad as birth control. NFP has
had to walk a fine line between both extremes.
First of all, the main problem with birth control is that it works against
the nature of our bodies — and nature in general. It aims to sever the act
(sex) from its consequence (pregnancy), basically reducing the sacredness of
sex to the mere pursuit of pleasure.
NFP, when used for the right reason, is more of a tool used for discerning
whether a couple has the means (whether financially, physically, or
emotionally) to accept a child into their lives. It involves understanding
your own body, taking careful stock of your situation in life, discussing
the issue with your spouse, and, above all, prayer. Rather than cutting
yourself off from the full reality of sex, you are entering into it with a
better understanding of all aspects involved.
People who favor birth control point to those people who can’t afford more
children, or whose health might be at risk from further pregnancies. But
these are perfectly legitimate reasons to use NFP — situations where it
would be perfectly effective — and the Church allows its use.
Other people think that taking any sort of control over the size of your
family is like playing God, rather than letting Him provide for us as He
sees fit. It’s true that we must trust God and always accept the lives He
sends us, but we don’t need to be completely hands-off in that regard.
For example, rather than throwing money around and saying that “God will
provide,” families carefully budget their finances and try not to overextend
their means. NFP is like that budget, helping us prayerfully consider our
situation in life and act accordingly. It’s part of our nature as humans to
understand ourselves and use our intellect and free will, rather than
passively expecting God to take care of everything. We’re called to be good
stewards of the gifts we’re given; we must be careful never to treat those
11. “Someone can be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.”
While this may be
one of the most common myths Catholics hold regarding their faith, it’s also
one of the most easily dispelled. The Catechism minces no words when
talking about abortion: It’s listed with homicide under crimes against the
fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The following passages make this clear: “Human life must be respected and
protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (2270). “Since the first
century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.
This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable” (2271). “Formal
cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches
the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life”
It can’t be stated more plainly than that. Some people might argue, however,
that being “pro-choice” doesn’t mean being in favor of abortion; lots of
people think abortion is wrong but don’t want to force that opinion on
There’s that “what’s true for you might not be true for me” argument again.
The Church has an answer to that, too: “’The inalienable rights of the
person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political
authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on
parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state;
they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the
creative act from which the person took his origin’” (2273).
The sanctity of life is a universal truth that can never be ignored.
Advising someone to get an abortion, or even voting for a politician who
would advance the cause of abortion, is a grave sin, because it leads others
to mortal sin — what the Catechism calls giving scandal (2284).
The Church stands forcefully and clearly against abortion, and we as
Catholics must take our stand as well.
12. “People’s memories of their past lives
prove that reincarnation is true...and that the Christian view of Heaven and
Hell is not.”
becomes increasingly fascinated with the paranormal, we can expect to see
claims of “past life memories” increase. Indeed, there are now organizations
who will help take you through your previous lives using hypnosis.
While this may be convincing to some, it certainly isn’t to anyone familiar
with the mechanics of hypnosis. Almost since the beginning, researchers have
noted that patients in deep hypnosis frequently weave elaborate stories and
memories, which later turn out to be utterly untrue. Reputable therapists
are well aware of this phenomenon, and weigh carefully what the patient says
Sadly, though, this isn’t the case with those interested in finding “proof”
for reincarnation. Perhaps the greatest example of this carelessness is the
famous Bridey Murphy case. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a quick
outline: In 1952, a Colorado housewife named Virginia Tighe was put under
hypnosis. She began speaking in an Irish brogue and claimed to once have
been a woman named Bridey Murphy who had lived in Cork, Ireland.
Her story was turned into a bestselling book, “The Search For Bridey
Murphy,” and received much popular attention. Journalists combed
Ireland, looking for any person or detail that might confirm the truth of
this past-life regression. While nothing ever turned up, the case of Bridey
Murphy continues to be used to buttress claims of reincarnation.
That’s a shame, since Virginia Tighe was exposed as a fraud decades ago.
Consider: Virginia’s childhood friends recalled her active imagination, and
ability to concoct complex stories (often centered around the imitation
brogue she had perfected). Not only that, but she had a great fondness for
Ireland, due in part to a friendship with an Irish woman whose maiden name
was — you guessed it — Bridie.
What’s more, Virginia filled her hypnosis narratives with numerous elements
from her own life (without revealing the parallels to the hypnotist). For
example, Bridey described an “Uncle Plazz,” which eager researchers took to
be a corruption of the Gaelic, “Uncle Blaise.” Their enthusiasm ran out
though when it was discovered that Virginia had a childhood friend she
called "Uncle Plazz."
When a hypnotized Virginia began dancing an Irish jig, researchers were
astounded. How, after all, would a Colorado housewife have learned the jig?
The mystery was solved when it was revealed that Virginia learned the dance
as a child.
As the Bridey Murphy case shows, the claims of past-life regression are
always more impressive than the reality. To this day, not a single
verifiable example exists of a person being regressed to a former life.
Certainly, many tales have been told under the control of a hypnotist, but
nevertheless, evidence for reincarnation (like that for the Tooth Fairy)
continues to elude us.
Deal Hudson. "12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer." Crisis
e-letter (June, 2003).
This article was reprinted with permission of Deal Hudson.
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