Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a two-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of this part to read the last part of the reply.

(R) I guess I need to do a quick catechism lesson here. Since this concept is not totally addressed by other sects of Christianity, it is very easily misunderstood.
(MB) What's to misunderstand? The Catholic Church has its arbitrary set of rules for what it will or will not consider to be a "legal" marriage and they feel that they have some sort of right to impose them on people. Period. End of story. What am I not understanding?

(R) The Catholic Church makes a distinction between sacramental marriage and secular (or civilly lawful) marriage.
(MB) So does any other religious denomination that has its own arbitrary set of rules for marriage. What's so special about the rules of the Catholics?

(R) In a sacramental marriage, the two people come of free will to the Church and profess their vows before God and man to seal the marriage covenant as it is described in the New Testament.
(MB) "Free will"? Something done by an individual or a couple under threatened penalties for failure to comply is not an action undertaken by free will if they wouldn't have done exactly the same thing without the spectre of those penalties.

(R) Civil authorities recognize the validity of such a marriage and it is also, therefore, a "legal" marriage in the eyes of the state laws as well.
(MB) True, but trivial. The secular authorities only require that a marriage be performed by somebody who is properly licensed to do so. It just happens that the large majority of those who have such licenses are members of the clergy. This does not equate to state sanctioning of religious marriages or any special preference for them.

(R) In a civil ceremony before a representative of the state, the requirements of the state laws are met, but God or a representative of the Church are not included.
(MB) ...and there's absolutely no reason why those additional things *should* be included.

(R) In this case, a sacramentally valid marriage has not occurred because the rules of the Church have not been met.
(MB) What legal, ethical, or moral force is supplied by a "sacramentally valid" marriage over a purely civil ceremony for those of us who don't buy into the mumbo-jumbo of religion?

(R) It is still very much legal for the purposes of our civil laws.
(MB) ...and that's absolutely all that matters in any meaningful sense.

(R) Now, let's imagine that a couple who wanted to become married went out to a mountain top and professed their vows to each other. Then they came back and told everyone that they were married in their own eyes and they didn't think the state should have anything to say about whether it is valid or not. The state would say they could not view the marriage as valid until the form was filled out and the fee was paid because that is the state law. The couple refuses, so the state can't view them as legally married. Is the state being unreasonable or controlling with this attitude toward the couple? No, because the laws are laid out and the couple would have to conform to them in order to get the benefits of a legally married couple. They still have the option to refuse, but in doing so, they are aware of their standing with the laws of marriage.
(MB) You are exactly correct. The important point here is that if you want the legal benefits of marriage, you must comply with the legal requirements for marriage. Since you seem to understand this, I'm rather confused about why we're even arguing the point.

(R) Do you see how this applies to marriage in the church? The rules are laid out very clearly to anyone who wishes to remain in the Catholic Church. If a person wants to be viewed as married in the Church, then the sacramental ceremony has to be performed because those are the rules.
(MB) Again, how does this apply to somebody who is not a Catholic or to whom the rules of the Catholic Church are meaningless? If Catholics want to live by their Church's arbitrary rules, more power to them. But, what gives that Church the authority to try to force their rules upon the rest of us or threaten us with their penalties for non-compliance? Since there's absolutely nothing in secular, legal society that requires any blessing of the Catholic Church, why do they feel that they must get involved at all?

(R) If the person does not want to have a sacramental marriage, then the Church sees that person as committing the sin of adultery.
(MB) Isn't it rather difficult to commit adultery *before* marriage? Isn't that especially difficult if neither person is or ever has been married? "Living in sin" is not the same thing as "adultery".

(R) Adultery is a mortal sin by the rules of the Church and therefore the person can no longer receive any of the other sacraments.
(MB) That only has any meaning to people who are devout Catholics in the first place. Their "sacraments" are nothing more than meaningless ceremonies to the rest of us.

(R) To not receive the sacraments for a Catholic is to sever your relationship with God.
(MB) So, what happens if somebody quits the Catholics and joins up with another denomination? Don't they get their salvation back? If not, why not?

I know you don't agree with the whole concept of this stuff, but can you at least appreciate the logic of the process.
(MB) There's no logic to be appreciated. Until the Catholic rules can be demonstrated to have any larger meaning in reality, they can't be considered to be anything more than a game. If the rules have no realistic meaning, then violating them can have no possible meaningful consequences. Essentially, it all boils down to a waste of time and effort. This is "logic"?

(R) It's an "if....then" progression of events.
(MB) Actually, it's only an "if" event. Since there is no evidence to support the "heaven-or-hell" consequences of their rules that are alleged by the Catholic Church, there can be no logical progressions.

What right does the Church have to decide what is "moral" and what is not and to mete out their form of justice in accordance with their arbitrary decisions?
(R) I'd have to say the same right as any organization, government, or country to set rules for its members.
(MB) In other words, no right at all that has any larger meaning. In the case of the Church, they claim they are enforcing "God's Laws", but they can't seem to decide just exactly what they are nor can they provide any compelling evidence for the ones they eventually choose to mandate. Needless to say, they also can't explain why their laws should be regarded as any better than the moral laws of any other religion or belief system. Therefore, the Church has no right whatsoever to attempt to force its morality upon anybody else.

(R) I've read The Affirmations of Humanism at your web site. Morality is mentioned several times. Who decides what is moral for Humanists? If humanists can decide what is moral for other humanists, why can't Catholics decide what is moral for other Catholics?
(MB) I'm surprised that you see no difference here. Read the Affirmations again and tell me where it lists any penalties for failure to comply. Read it again and tell me where it says "This is what you must do" instead of "This is what we believe". Read it again and tell me where it claims any higher authority for its pronouncements (either supernatural, divine, or secular). After you've read it again, come back and tell me how you see no difference between the Affirmations and the dictates of Catholic dogma and doctrine.

In any case, you seem to be assuming that the rules and requirements of the Catholic Church are somehow above reproach and that they apply even to non-Catholics and to situations with which the Catholic Church has no business interfering.
(R) I hold the requirements of the Catholic Church in very high esteem because they make sense for the betterment of human families.
(MB) "Betterment" in which ways? Subjecting them to unsupportable dogmas and doctrines? Instilling fear and uncertainty while castigating the search for real knowledge? Preferring several thousand year old fairy tales to reality? Why are Catholic requirements so much better than the requirements of any other religion or belief system?

(R) Have you ever read an official document written about its regard for the family? They are absolutely wonderful! The family unit is seen as the most important block in the societal structure.
(MB) What's different here than what any other belief system upholds?

(R) With strong families you have a strong society.
(MB) Which belief systems denigrate strong families? History also records an long line of strong societies which have collapsed despite having strong family structures. In fact, the family structure has been a constant among all societies and beliefs since the first cave man picked up a rock. I don't see this as any reason to adopt any system of unsupportable dogmatic belief.

(R) With the broken and suffering families that we are experiencing in the US right now, we are also seeing the downfall of our society.
(MB) Don't you think that you are exaggerating just a wee bit here? Are unsuccessful families the rule or the exception? Do you think that dogmatic belief is the key to "saving our society"?

The ideas about God or other types of supernatural entities are not demonstrably accurate and any conclusions or statements which depend upon the existence of any particular version of God are on very shaky logical ground.
(R) Logically, you can't answer all the questions of the universe by science either.
(MB) That's correct, but that's not the point. Science provides methods by which to verify that its theories are accurate. Religion verifies nothing and demands blind faith instead. Science can't (as of yet, anyway) answer every question, but it can answer a great many of them and can, therefore, lead us in the direction of ultimate knowledge. Religion answers nothing. In fact, its dogmas and doctrines are more often detrimental to real knowledge.
Science can't answer everything at this point, but the questions it can't yet answer do not require us to accept or even consider supernatural bogosity as substitutes.

(R) As you state in one of your responses on the web page, science gets close but has yet to get to the source of what causes us to be. The big bang theory fills in a lot of the gaps, but the origin has yet to be discovered.
(MB) Very true. Once again, why is it necessary to completely discard the theories of science that are not yet complete and accept the totally unsupported conjectures of religion instead? There are more serious holes and gaps in any one set of religious beliefs than in the sum total of the sciences. So, how can you make an argument supporting religious belief on the basis that science doesn't answer all questions?

(R) There must be a first cause because everything else that we know about the universe tells us that one thing leads to another, which leads to another, etc. We can trace everything back through this progression of causes.
(MB) Not true. Quantum physics demonstrates the existence of uncaused effects (such as radioactive decay). It is very possible, therefore, that the event which initially produced the universe was such an uncaused effect.

(R) There has to be a first link to this chain that supports itself, otherwise it won't be the uncaused cause. If there is no first cause, the universe is like a great chain, each chain being held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing. From what we know of science, this cannot be.
(MB) As previously shown, this is not what "we" know of science. This is only what those who are unversed in science "know" of it.

(R) There has to be an independent something that has caused everything else to be. The first movement or "chain" had to be moved.
(MB) Why? And what might this be? Before you answer, please examine the contradictory logic involved in any claim that this "something" was "God". If you wish to claim that no effect is uncaused and that all links in a chain must be preceded by something else, you eliminate "God" as the answer. By this argument, you are saying that all things are events with preceding causes while simultaneously making an exception for God. This is paradoxical. Conversely, if you claim that there can be an exception to the mistaken notion of "first cause", why can't you believe that the scientific view has any merit?

Since there are so many different and mutually-exclusive versions of God that are worshipped by the multitude of Man's varying religious systems, it would seem that believers are going to have to get their own story straight before trying to impose any one of them upon non-believers.
(R) I'd have to agree with you here! Even though many people may have different stories about an occurrence in history, one of them can certainly, possibly be correct. The existence of different stories do not negate the truthfulness of the one that is accurate.
(MB) Absolutely correct, but that does not address my initial point. History can be verified by evidence, but nothing can verify the supernatural stories contained in religious belief. No historian is going to condemn you to Hell for not believing in his depiction of Hannibal's tactics at the Battle of Cannae. Proponents of differing views of a historical event don't proselytize, build museums of worship for them, or engage in missionary activity to spread the word about them.
Religious believers, however, get downright testy when their cherished beliefs are challenged. They believe in them so strongly that they aren't even interested in the facts concerning them. They are convinced that they are "right" while all others are "wrong" even though they can't even take the first tiny step towards proving their case. If science acted this way, you would have every justification to belittle it. Why should religion be free from similar treatment?

I think you're confusing "unimaginable understanding" with the standard answer "Well, it's a mystery" that is typically delivered any time a believer gets nailed with a question they can't answer or with an answer that they can't question.
(R) The word mystery is used to define something that we can't possibly understand entirely.
(MB) No, the word "mystery" describes something that we don't currently understand -- not something that we never can or will understand. In its religious connotation, it describes something that the believer prefers to believe but can't understand or support. It's also used to free a dogmatic claim from the effects of scrutiny. Calling something a "mystery" in no way supports belief in it. It's only an indication of ignorance.

(R) Can a created being have a full understanding of its creator?
(MB) Why not? Even if we grant that we can't, why do we assume that we can't even learn answers to basic questions about such a creator? Why can't the answers that we do claim to have be consistent and coherent? If the concept of a creator leads to nothing that makes any rational sense, the only logical option is to discard that idea. At the very least, it should be viewed with a skeptical eye.

(R) I'm sorry I made such a grandiose statement. I have no doubt of the power of your imagination. The point I was trying to make is that I do feel I have an understanding in this area that you do not possess.
(MB) And, what might that understanding be? It is truly "understanding" or is it emotional satisfaction instead?

(R) It makes sense to me and I have found answers to my questions.
(MB) Anybody can come up with answers to questions. Finding *correct* answers, however, takes a bit of work. Remember back when we all believed in the Tooth Fairy? That was an answer that explained why we could put a tooth under our pillow before we went to sleep and find a dime there when we awakened in the morning. It made sense since we didn't have enough evidence to determine the real answer. But, does belief in the Tooth Fairy qualify as any real understanding of anything? Or, is it just a bandaid that substitutes for truth and produces a satisfactory emotional reaction? Why is belief in "God" any different?

(R) Don't get me wrong, I believe the Big Bang happened and I believe that life on earth has evolved over millions of years. The point I'm making is that they are taught as hard-core fact.
(MB) Why shouldn't they be taught as fact? All the evidence supports them as such. The fact that certain religious systems have other ideas doesn't change that one bit. And, this won't ever be changed until and unless the religious believers can come up with some facts to support their own ideas.

(R) They never told us that the Big Bang couldn't have caused itself...
(MB) Why should they have done so when that is a mistaken notion?

(R) ...or that not one transitional fossil has ever been found to support the theory of evolution to the extent that one creature somehow turns into another creature.
(MB) Again, why should this have been taught when it is a lie on two major counts? First, one creature does not "turn into" another creature in one fell swoop (as the Creationists prefer to mangle the story). Species evolve and diverge due to an accumulation of changes through mutation over many, many generations. This leads to the second point that transitional fossils depict creatures that are at some point within that period of change. That's what the word "transitional" means.
    If you claim to believe in evolution, how can you dispute this?

(R) I quoted from the materials I did because those are the ones I now believe after checking the facts, not just because I arbitrarily "chose" to believe in them.
(MB) If you have "checked the facts", you must have read skeptical materials as well. What are they? If you have "checked the facts", you would be familiar with both sides of the questions, but this has not been the case thus far.

(R) I'm very sorry that reading the Bible caused your doubts. There are many things in the Bible that seem contradictory and are hard to understand.
(MB) Don't you think that there might just be an underlying reason for that? Why is it that the contradictions and incoherence of the Bible are no problem for Christians, but that similar things in the holy books of other religions are absolute proof that their religions are wrong and that their gods are false?

(R) I think the major problem with this scenario is that you were relying on your own understanding and interpretation of what you were reading.
(MB) The major problem here is that you are dead wrong. Why do you automatically assume that decades of study make me less capable of understanding what's in the Bible? Also, I am certainly not alone in my skepticism. Most of the greatest philosophers, academics, and thinkers in history have major problems with the Bible, with Christianity, and with religion and the supernatural in general. Why are these people all wrong and why are you right?

(R) I'm not trying to offend you with this observation, just trying to call to mind that there is a lot more to understanding a document that is several centuries old than to just read an interpretation of it.
(MB) But, isn't that exactly what you (and almost all other Christians) actually do? Have you ever read the original manuscripts in the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek? Or, do you pick up the Good News Bible, the New International Version or, even worse, some "believe it no matter what" study guide?

(R) You have to understand the culture, the reason it was written, who it was written for, and the author's individual style.
(MB) I do. That's all part of the study I've made over the years. If you'll notice in the replies on my web site, I make frequent references to just these things in refutation of the standard arguments put forth by blind faith believers. Actually, the better one knows these things, the easier it is to come to non-belief.

(R) And then there's the problem of the interpreter's interpretation. It is common knowledge by Bible scholars that certain translations are much more accurate than others.
(MB) Quite true. And those, like me, who have actually studied and compared various translations are better able to see where they have gone wrong and where the newer translations have intentionally altered certain verses in order to attempt to get certain uncomfortable problems past modern readers.

(R) You chastised me in one of our previous discussions for using the footnotes that are included in my Study Bible. I use them precisely because I don't have all the knowledge I need in order to interpret correctly on my own.
(MB) This makes no sense in light of your previous statement which warns about inherent problems with the interpreter's interpretations. If you truly believe that, why do you place any stock in the footnotes in your version of the Bible? After all, they are actually interpretations of an interpreter's interpretations. Yet, you use them to support your arguments while accusing me of an "inability to understand".

(R) People have studied scripture for hundreds of years and there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to use their hard-earned knowledge.
(MB) Exactly. So why don't you use *all* of that knowledge instead of just relying on what the apologists write? Why limit yourself to what you know ahead of time will support what you already believe? That's not exactly "study".

(R) People in professional careers, i.e. physicians, are not expected to discover everything for themselves. We are able to stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, so that our understanding is more complete.
(MB) Exactly. But, you can't just choose a few accomodating shoulders and brush aside those which might cause you to see things that might be uncomfortable for your inherent beliefs. The true scholar invites challenges to his beliefs.

(R) You also accuse me of only reading things that support my belief. I assure you, I have been exposed to other ideas.
(MB) You "assure" me of this, but haven't yet stated even a single example of what those "other ideas" are.

(R) I would ask you the same question. Besides the Bible itself (which has been proven that it can not interpret itself otherwise there wouldn't be 4000 different denominations) have you read anything to help you in understanding it?
(MB) Of course. If you'll read the replies on my site, you'll see that I refer to Catholic Concordances, study guides, publications of the Institute for Creation Research and famous works of apologists. I don't believe that one can accurately refute such things without being familiar with them.

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