Sunday, February 12, 2012

Catholics, Credulity, and Credibility

I think there's a reason why some folks see Saints as strange people who lived in strange places a long time ago.

The Catholic Church is about two millennia old, and is literally universal. Examples of almost anything related to the Catholic Church are likely to be 'long ago and far away.'

'Strange,' Yes: 'Bizarre,' No

Saints are people who "lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2156) But they're also people. I think it's a mistake to see them as oddballs who had nothing in common with 'real' people.

I generally don't assume that folks who were born in another century, or on another continent, are 'strange.' Not in the 'bizarre' or 'foreign' sense. Different, sure: but once I get past the cultural trappings and personal quirks - I don't see all that much difference.

But then, I don't think folks have changed all that much since Stephen became the first Christian martyr. (Acts 6:5-7:60) Keep an eye on that "young man named Saul" in Acts 7:58. We catch up with him again, two chapters later, in Acts 9:1.

I'll get back to the "young man named Saul" later in this post.

Ravana, Romeo, and Body Counts

This story could be set almost anywhere, at any time:
  • A man
    • Gets infatuated over a woman
    • Loses whatever common sense he had
    • Does something
      • Daring
      • 'Romantic'
      • Incredibly imprudent
  • More people get involved
    • Lots more people
  • People get killed
I've just described
Sure, Paris, Ravana, Romeo, and Tony, are different. In the stories, they're a Trojan prince, a demon, a rich kid, and a hoodlum.

But they all act pretty much the same way. They display:
  • Great passion and resolve
  • Negligible wisdom
It's interesting that Laurents and Bernstein kept the body count fairly low in their version: and that's almost another topic.

Sex, by the way, isn't the problem in these stories. What caused trouble were daft decisions, and I've been over that sort of thing before. (August 30, 2011)

A Martyr, a Convert, and Human Nature

Remember the "young man named Saul" in Acts 7:58?

I'm picking up Saul's story two chapters later. He's "still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord." (Acts 9:1) This man is not exactly someone you'd expect the folks he's got in his sights to welcome with open arms.

Later in Acts 9:21, Saul has changed his mind, changed sides, and is now a gung-ho Christian.

He's also called "Paul," but that doesn't seem to be so much a 'new name,' as two versions of the same name: "Saul" for when he's around folks from home; "Paul" when he's around folks who are used to hearing Greco-Roman names. (foonote 5 of Acts 13) And I'm getting off-topic.

Light, Blindness, and Voices

Saul's sudden switch isn't as arbitrary as it may seem. He had an up-close-and-personal run-in with the Second Person of the Trinity on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-9)

Saul had good reason to take the voice he heard seriously. For one thing, he was temporarily blinded. For another, the men he was traveling with heard the voice too. I suppose I could claim that Saul was suffering from hallucinations and psychosomatic blindness: but a whole bunch of guys, all having the same hallucination at the same time? That's a bit too much of a coincidence for me.

But, in principle, most of the events in Exodus could be coincidences: natural events that 'just happened' to occur at exactly the right time and the right place for the folks following Moses.

Also, in principle, someone could roll "snake eyes" a hundred times in a row. That would be a wildly improbable statistical fluke. Or, more likely, someone loaded the dice.

Or I could say that everything in the Bible is a lie: and be considered 'intelligent' in some circles. (December 18, 2011)

You Want Me to Welcome Him?!

Saul/Paul figured that Christians in Damascus wouldn't believe that he was on their side now: and he was right. Christians, the ones I know, are no more likely than anyone else to think that someone determined to kill us has suddenly changed his mind.

Take Ananias, for example. He had good reason to think that Saul intended to do bad things to him and his fellow-Christians:
"There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, 'Ananias.' He answered, 'Here I am, Lord.' The Lord said to him, 'Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying,"...
(Acts 9:10-11)
What Ananias says in Acts 9:13-14 could be summed up as 'you have got to be kidding.' Only he was more eloquent, detailed - and much more respectful.

The point is that Ananias didn't simply 'listen and obey.' He made jolly well sure that he understood the orders - and expressed some quite reasonable concerns.

Then he did as he was told. Acts 9:11-19 goes from the vision Ananias had, to where Saul/Paul settled down for a few days.

"Settled" isn't quite the right word. The rest of Saul's life was anything but settled. After that experience on the road to Damascus, Saul/Paul of Tarsus traveled over quite a bit of the Roman world, and finally lost his head in Rome. Literally. ("Papal Basilica, Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls")

Religion, Psychiatric Conditions, and Getting a Grip

So: Catholics 'hear voices in our head and do what they say?' Some of us probably do. With something like 1,100,000,000 of us living today, the odds are pretty good that some of us have any given disease: including schizophrenia.1

With all our talk of "faith," someone might think that Catholics think there's an eleventh Commandment about credulity being next to Godliness. Let's see what "credulity" (and "credulous") mean:
  • Credulity
    • The tendency to believe readily
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Credulous
    • Disposed to believe on little evidence
    • Showing a lack of judgment or experience
      (Princeton's WordNet)
As a Catholic, I'm not allowed to be incredulous. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089) Being credulous isn't recommended, either. (1 John 4:1; "General Audience - 29 October 1997" Pope John Paul II (October 29, 1997)) And preying on folks who are credulous isn't allowed. (Catechism, 644, 2117)

Credibility, Cliques, and All That

A dictionary says that credibility means "the quality of being believable or trustworthy." (Princeton's WordNet)

Ever since my Lord told us to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:16-20), the Catholic Church has had the job of evangelization. Personal experience tells me that a hard-sell 'repent, you lousy sinner' approach isn't terribly effective.

It might be nice, if folks would hear "Christian" and immediately assume that the person described is:
  • Honest
  • Forthright
  • Knowledgeable
  • Dedicated to public service
  • Sane
That's not always the case. Sometimes you'll have someone who seems convinced that Christians are by definition hate-riddled lunatics who should be locked up. More often, the other person has run into a Christian with more zeal than sense: or read about a 'religious nut' in the news. I've posted about that before:
I'm no expert on 'how to win friends and influence people.' I could, though, have a shot at writing "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." Convincing those around you that what you say isn't worth hearing is fairly easy.

Here's how to lose friends and alienate people, in a few easy steps:
  • Verbally attack their
    • Style of clothing
    • Musical preferences
    • Taste in art
    • Eating habits
    • Economic status
  • Drag your beliefs into every conversation
  • Use jargon
Add a condescending attitude, and either imply or state outright that you're part of a select little group of 'better' people, and you're done. In several senses of the word.

Getting Your Linguistic Ducks in a Row

Jargon - a sort of language-within-a-language - isn't a problem, by itself.

Here's an example of jargon:
"I'll have my ducks in a row as soon as this SWOT analysis gives me an actionable silver bullet."
Some folks would realize that I meant:
I'll have the details carefully planned out as soon as an analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats gives me a simple, guaranteed, solution that can be done in the near future.
If both sides of a conversation understand the same jargon, it's a good way to get a lot said in a few words.

Most of the time, though, if I said things like "SWOT analysis" and "actionable silver bullet:" all that folks would be likely to hear is some middle-aged guy using jargon.

At best, unfamiliar jargon will only prevent the other person from understanding what's said. At worst - well, that depends partly on what attitude the speaker has, and how obviously crazy he or she is. Which brings up yet another topic:
The basic idea was that folks won't take ideas seriously, if they can't understand whoever is talking. It also helps if folks don't think the speaker is crazy.

And I am not going to go off on that tangent. Again.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 Schizophrenia is one of those psychological disorders or psychiatric diseases that could be mistaken for 'evil spirits at work:'
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, via PubMedHealth (Last reviewed February 7, 2010)

"Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult to:
  • "Tell the difference between real and unreal experiences
  • "Think logically
  • "Have normal emotional responses,
  • "Behave normally in social situations...
Which reminds me of 'sophisticated' notions about religion - and that'll wait for another post.

Evil spirits and exorcisms are real enough. But so is schizophrenia. Also major depression and ADHD-inattentive. Both of which I've got. I suppose I could have found a shaman or faith healer and tried 'driving out' my ADHD. But those approaches are really bad ideas. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2110, 2111) I've been over that before:
Instead, I've been seeing a psychiatrist: and deal with ADHD by taking Methylphenidate. Which is what I am supposed to do, as a practicing Catholic. And I've been over that before, too:


Brigid said...

No start parenthesis: "Later in Acts 9:21), Saul"

How many 'n's does this name have? Because this is the second version I've seen so far: "What Anannias says in"

'Actos'??? "says in Actos 9:13-14 could be"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Fixed all around. It's Ananias - in the version of English I'm using, anyway. Thanks!

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.