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Catholic Christianity Part 2- Morality (How Catholics Live)


Chapter 1: The Essence of Catholic Morality

Catholics do not first decide what to believe, then begin to live morally after that, and then move on to prayer and worship after that. In fact, the order is sometimes the reverse; for the most usual source of a loss of faith is an immoral life, and the most powerful source of a moral life is prayer and the sacraments. The more prayer, the more virtue; the more virtue, the more faith (3021).

This, to me, invites a huge amount of confirmation bias in. It may be unavoidable, but I think the danger must be acknowledged.

The very first words of the section on morality in the Catechism are: “ ‘Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member’ 1 ” (CCC 1691) Nothing comparable exists in secular morality. No other basis for human dignity can rival this: that God has given us a share in his own divine nature (3057).

What is the image of “Catholic morality” propagated by today’s secular world, especially the media establishment, which forms modern minds through TV, movies, journalism, and public education? It is that of a joyless, repressive, dehumanizing, impersonal, and irrational system, something alien and inhuman and often simply stupid (3064).

When the media meet a saint, like Mother Teresa, their stereotypes dissolve and die (3067).

“If God does not exist, everything is permissible”, wrote Dostoyevsky. For if it is only man’s will and not God’s that makes moral laws, then they are as changeable and contingent as the rules of a game. If we make the rules, we can change them or unmake them (3101).

Human nature still exists objectively without God. If secular morality is based off of objectively existing human nature, then morality is not based off of man’s will alone, and is no longer contingent as the rules of a game.

there can be true morality without true religion (3106).

God deserves the credit and the thanks because he is the source of “every good endowment and every perfect gift” (Jas 1:17), especially our natural moral knowledge and our good moral choices. They are ours, and they are free, but they are also God’s grace, for God’s grace turns our freedom on, not off (3118).

in the last few centuries in the West, Catholics have been behaving no differently from the secularized world—and have been steadily losing that world. Statistics show that in the United States, the West’s most religious nation, Catholics murder, rape, commit adultery, abort, fornicate, euthanize, and commit suicide at the same rate as everyone else (3142).

“By their fruits. . .” I think this is a pretty astonishing admission. Not just modern times, but hundreds of years. I wonder how he knows that before that it was different. If there are ancient stories of virtuous Christian brotherhoods, how can we know they are as good as they claimed?

On the one hand, there has been substantial progress not only in science and technology but also in morality: for instance, sensitivity to human rights, the humane treatment of the handicapped, and the nearly universal consensus against torture, cruelty, slavery, and racism. On the other hand, especially since the so-called “Enlightenment”, Western civilization has been increasingly secularized and de-Christianized, morally as well as theologically and ecclesiastically (3181).

It’s nice to see that at least some good things have come along with the enlightenment, and the secularization and de-Christianization are only bad on his view.

What is the summum bonum, the greatest good, the final end, the meaning of life? Of course the answer is “happiness”, for “ ‘[w]e all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition’ (3215).

‘God alone satisfies’  (3220).

It is secular, godless morality that is joyless and dull (3243).

I find effective altruism personally very exciting, and I think the most virtuous humans alive are in line with that movement. They make Mother Theresa look like pretend morality.

Chapter 2:

The typically modern idea is that moral laws are man-made rules like the rules of a game such as tennis, created by human will and therefore changeable by human will. The traditional idea, on the other hand, which is taught not only by the Catholic Church but by all the world’s major religions and nearly all pre-modern philosophies, is that the laws of morality are not rules that we make but principles that we discover (3264).

I’d be interested in why Kreeft thinks that the above modern idea is typical. I don’t really know how representative it is of the average person. I think it is probably not representative of the average secular moral philosopher.

They are based on human nature, and human nature is essentially unchanging; and therefore the laws of morality are also essentially unchanging (3267).

Such a morality is often called a morality of “natural law”. This means two things: (a) that moral laws are based on human nature, derived from human nature; and (b) that they are naturally and instinctively known by human reason (3277).

(“Reason” means more than just “reasoning”; it includes an intuitive awareness of our obligation to “Do good and avoid evil” and of the meaning of “good” and “evil”.) (3278).

I have very low confidence that people really have any decent answer for what “good” or “evil” means. Moreover, I’d wager that there are a variety of incompatible, relatively decent answers out there.

We outlaw things because they are wrong, and they are wrong by their own nature ultimately because that nature is opposed to the nature and character of God (3368).

God created man to be an end, like himself, and all other things to be means for man (1 Cor 3:22-23) (3377).

c. Politicians and businesses must recognize that the ruling purpose of the economy is not power or profit but human welfare (3384).

Whenever we deal with objective reality, subjectively good intentions are not enough. (Are they enough for your dentist? Or for your financial advisor?) So if you say they are enough for morality you say morality is not about objective reality (3430).

In line with effective altruism here. I would like to see this idea more widely accepted.

Because animals are not persons, they should not be loved as persons but as animals—that is, they may be used as pets or clothing or even food (3443).

Pretty big advantage of many secular moral theories over Catholic morality.

Conscience is to good and evil what sight is to color. It is the power of the soul that gives us awareness of the moral dimension, the goodness or evil of human acts (3464).

This does not mean we are not influenced or “conditioned” by many factors that come to us. But our choices come from us. We are not passive links in a chain of causes (3478).

a. The meaning of free will. “God created man . . . a person who can initiate and control his own actions. . . . ‘[H]e is created with free will and is master over his acts’ 2 ” (CCC 1730) “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life” (CCC 1731) (3498).

So our evil actions are our own fault because we freely willed them. But the credit for our good actions goes to God, because God gave us that freedom. . . wait a second. . . double standard here I think.

b. Free will is necessary for morality. Free will “is the basis of praise or blame” (CCC 1732). If our wills are not really free, morality is really meaningless (3502).

We do not praise or blame, reward or punish a machine (3505).

Chapter 3: Some Fundamental Principles of Catholic Morality

modern people say that morality is always a “complex issue”. G. K. Chesterton explained why: “Morality is always terribly complicated—to a man who has lost all his principles” (3554).

Getting to those principles and figuring out why they’re good ones is definitely complicated. This is a pretty anti-intellectual statement. If morality wasn’t complicated, then it’s strange that there would still be moral progress up to now.

Goods are traditionally classified into three different kinds. Moral goods are only one of three kinds of goods. The other two are useful goods (tools, instruments, anything sought as means to further ends) and pleasant goods (things sought as ends in themselves, as ingredients in happiness: joy, peace, beauty, delight, contentment, pleasure) (3577).

“The morality of human acts depends on “—the object chosen; “—the end in view or the intention; “—the circumstances of the action” (CCC 1750). That is, (a) the act itself, (b) the motive, and (c) the situation (3586).

So with a human act. The act itself and the motive and the circumstances must all be right. You must (a) do the right thing (b) for the right reason (c) in the right way (3612).

If there are three moral rules that are obvious to every morally sane individual and culture, they are probably the following three mentioned in the Catechism: “Some rules apply in every case: “—One may never do evil so that good may result from it” [that is, a good end does not justify an evil means]; “—the Golden Rule: ‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.’1 “—charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience” (CCC 1789) (3655).

Sort of begs the question against consequentialism, a pretty common view. Golden rule is also imperfect, but a good start. I also don’t respect everyone else’s conscience. Sometimes they feel strongly about messed up things.

Since this obligation binds us even when we do not want it to, it could not have come from our human will and wants. It comes to us, not from us, and is powerful evidence for the existence of God. Even the atheist treats conscience as an absolute moral authority; for like everyone else he admits that it is always right to obey your conscience and wrong to disobey it (3673).

Failure to take into account alternate explanations for moral feelings, or premoral sentiments in animals. Also, I don’t treat conscience as absolute. Can he cite atheists that do? Can he defend the idea that all or most atheists do? How about philosophically or scientifically informed atheists?

b. Conscience is not infallible. It can err, like anything in us. It can mistake what is evil for good, or good for evil (3692).

c. “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself” (CCC 1790). We are always obliged to obey our conscience, even though it is not infallible. If your conscience leads you honestly to believe that a certain act is morally obligatory, it is morally wrong for you to avoid the act your conscience commands (3695).

The fallibility of conscience seems to be a good reason to not always obey it. Maybe we should be more careful about our actions if we know our conscience is sometimes going to mislead us.

Chapter 4: Virtues and Vices

“Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called ‘cardinal’; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence” [or wisdom], “justice” [or fairness], “fortitude” [or courage], “and temperance” (3758).

Prudence is “the virtue that disposes practical reason” (3763).

“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor (3766).

“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good (3779).

The three theological virtues have even more serious opposite vices—more serious because they directly imperil our eternal salvation. a. The knowing and deliberate repudiation of faith is apostasy (3858).

there must be full knowledge that the act is a serious sin (3890).

This is one of the aspects necessary for a sin to be mortal.

Chapter 5: The First Three Commandments: Duties to God

e. “Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test” (CCC 2119) (4116).

This is a little suspicious. Isn’t it ever worth seeing if God is who he says he is? I suppose some would say he’s already proven himself, but that’s not obvious to lots of people. Maybe only believing Catholics should put God to the test, just like me testing my wife or friend would be a kind of jerk thing to do.

h. “Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion [cf. Rom 1:18]. The imputability” [blameworthiness] “of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. ‘Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their . . . faith, . . . they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and religion’ (4123).

i. “Agnosticism. . . makes no judgment about God’s existence, declaring it impossible to . . . affirm or deny” (CCC 2127). “Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence. . . , Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism” (4127).

Chapter 6: The Fourth Commandment: Family and Social Morality

Almost always, the secularist ignoring of God and his authority is accompanied by an ignoring of the family, its authority, and its priority over the state (4232).

This example also shows that obedience is not a mark of inferiority. No one ever obeyed the Father’s will more completely than Christ, yet Christ was divine, equal to the Father in all things (4269).

when the New Testament tells wives to obey their husbands (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1), citizens to obey their rulers (Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), and servants to obey their masters (Col 3:22; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18), this does not imply a relationship between inferior and superior. Indeed, this misunderstanding is explicitly contradicted: “There is no partiality” (Col 3:25) (4271).

I have trouble seeing how total obedience does not signify inferiority. Also, I find it hard to believe that wives are always, without exception, to obey their husbands. Do Catholics believe that there is no diversity in this aspect?

The three most stable, long-lasting, and internally peaceful societies in human history have been those continuing communities whose basic moral foundations were laid down by Moses (more than 3,500 years ago), Confucius (more than 2,500 years ago), and Muhammad (more than 1,300 years ago). All three of them were based on a very high regard for families and on the practice of continuous moral education (4290).

a. “A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family” (4296).

Gay people aren’t families, nor are people who choose not to have children.

Thus men only, women only, unmarried people, people forced into marriage, people who marry without basic goodwill toward each other, or people who refuse ever to have children all fail to fulfill one of the essential features of a family (4302).

common dignity and worth—follows also from our common origin: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin” (CCC 1934). This is the real basis for human equality; no other basis (such as human opinion or ideology or consensus) is absolutely secure against changing human notions of “superior” races or “unwanted” groups (4385).

So what was the relationship between Catholics and slavery? Isn’t slavery condoned in the Bible? I find this “unchanging” “absolutely secure” claim to be a bit implausible.

b. It is also “morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country” (4400).

These concrete, immediate duties should not be neglected for the sake of abstract, far-away causes that give one the illusion of being very idealistic and moral. Christ commanded us to love our neighbor, not “humanity” (4421).

I agree that immediate duties shouldn’t be neglected, but a service to humanity as a whole can, I think, make more of an impact, and shows true concern over love for only our neighbors.

subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher’ ” [larger] “ ‘order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower’ ” [smaller] “ ‘order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it’ 2 ” (CCC 1883). This applies especially to families (4427).

the state is necessary not only for law and order but also to provide a safety net of essential human needs like food, shelter, employment opportunity, and basic medical care to those not served by private initiative, individual charity, or family (4439).

The purpose of all public government, taxes, armies, and laws is the happiness of private individuals and families (4445).

A very simple definition of a good society is this: “A good society is one that makes it easy to be good” (4446).

It is a higher and more complete way, based on the essential reality of human nature, not on the changing fashions of any human ideology (4465).

Chapter 7: The Fifth Commandment: Moral Issues of Life and Death

Life Unworthy of Life was the way it was described in the tide of the first book to win public acceptance for this new ethic, by German doctors before World War II—the basis and beginning of the Nazi medical practices (4488).

Seems to be a bit of poisoning the well against a quality of life ethic.

“ ‘Human life is sacred because’ ” [a] “ ‘from its beginning it involves the creative action of God’ ” [b] “ ‘and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator,’ ” [c] “ ‘who is its sole end’ ”1 (CCC 2258). “ ‘God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being’ ”2 (CCC 2258) (4503).

I am invited (though not required) by Christ’s evangelical counsels to turn the other cheek even to the point of martyrdom when my own life is threatened; such personal “pacifism” is honorable. But it is not honorable to fail to protect others for whom I am responsible, especially my family (4539).

“[T]hose who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility” (CCC 2265). But the important qualifier is “if this is the only possible way” (4550).

This could be a defense against those who say violence is justified against abortion doctors. Other Catholics may say that violence is only to be used when it is the only way, and that they prefer peaceful means instead.

Thus the Church’s prudence judges that capital punishment, though it remains a public right if necessary, is not right under today’s conditions (4556).

The other philosophy, the “quality-of-life ethic”, holds that only some, not all, human beings have an inalienable right to life and that some human beings may draw the line for others and exclude them from the community of persons, from those who have the right to life. This same principle is at work whether those excluded persons are unwanted unborn babies, the old, the sick, the dying, those in pain, those of a certain “inferior” or unwanted race, those who have the wrong political opinions, or those who are declared “severely handicapped” because they fail to come up to a certain standard of intelligence or performance such as “significant social interaction”—which standard is always determined by the killers (4597).

To some degree it is true, but I think this ethic also promotes that those in pain or dying should be able to decide for themselves. George Eighmey of Death with Dignity National Center argued that it is the freedom to decide how one ends one’s life that he is fighting for. Perhaps he agrees with euthanasia as well, but with the sick and dying, he is not imposing any decision on them, or taking any right away.

The first is that one of the most fundamental purposes of law is to protect human rights, especially the first and foundational right, the right to life. The second is that all human beings have the right to life. The third is that the already-conceived but not-yet-born children of human beings are human beings (4638).

By human being, I’d say human persons would be meant. Not all cells with human DNA are human persons. Personhood, or something like it, is to me the only reasonable criteria for rights. Presumably if dolphins or other apes have the right mental characteristics, they could be considered persons as well. The Catholics have no reason to endow other animals, no even if they had human level intelligence, with personhood. It would be ethical for Catholics to murder an orangutan as smart as a human.

Thus there are three different kinds of “pro-choicers”: First, there are those who admit that all persons have a right to life and that unborn children are persons but deny that this right should be protected by law (the first premise). This is a serious legal error (4644).

Second, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that unborn children are human beings but deny that all human beings have the right to life (the second premise). This is a very serious moral error. It is essentially the philosophy of power, of “might makes right.” Those in power—doctors, parents, legislators, adults—decree the right to kill those who lack the power to defend themselves: the smallest, most vulnerable, and most innocent of all human beings. No good reason can justify this decree; a good end does not justify an intrinsically evil means (4655).

Third, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that all humans have that right, but deny that unborn children are humans (the third premise). This is a serious factual and scientific error. Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, all science texts taught the biological truism that the life of any individual of any species begins at conception, when sperm and ovum unite to create a new being with its own complete and unique genetic code, distinct from both father and mother (4661).

Kreeft seems to be using “persons”  and “humans” as synonyms. This is certainly disputed. While unborn children are scientifically human, there is a point where a fertilized egg can be arguably said to not be person. This is not in contradiction with science at all. In fact, it is more in line with science than calling a fertilized egg a person, given the science of what gives humans personalities (a brain or at least nerves would be a start).

“Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person” (CCC 2277). This is how we treat a horse: we “put it out of its misery” by putting a bullet through its head, because we judge its life merely by physical, biological standards. It is only an animal. Man is not only an animal (4687).

That’s funny, because the quality of life people would say that we treat horses and dogs better than humans when we show them mercy. Just a mirror image.

“Ordinary care” or “ordinary means” includes such things as food and water and pain relief, as distinct from intrusive and aggressive medical interventions such as respirators or feeding tubes, which are “extraordinary means” and are discretionary, or optional (4691).

“letting die” is not the same as killing. It can be morally right under some circumstances: if there is no reasonable hope of cure. If death is inevitable and imminent, there is no moral necessity to do anything that makes dying more painful (4696).

To weaken the faith or hope or charity of another is a very serious evil. Teachers therefore have a very serious responsibility, especially teachers of religion to young people (4728).

21. The “just war” doctrine No war is just in itself. War is a sinful and barbaric invention. It is murder on a mass scale. But the choice to go to war can be just, if it is necessary self-defense. The aim of a just war (that is, a just “going to war”) is peace. The aim is not taking lives but saving lives: the lives of the innocent victims of aggression. The end that makes a war just can only be peace (4748).

Chapter 8: The Sixth and Ninth Commandments: Sexual Morality

It is no accident that opposites attract, sexually as well as electromagnetically. There is both “difference and complementarity” (CCC 233 3) between the sexes. Men and women are different, by nature and divine design, not just by society’s conventions (4850).

But it’s also not strictly true that opposites attract. Also, statistical differences are not universal differences. This seems to contradict science pretty strongly.

The essence of sex, like any intelligently designed thing, is in its end. Lust, like any sin, must be seen against that background (4906).

Not sure why the original intent of a thing determines the morality of its use. One could design a pair of glasses to aid in seeing, but another person could use them as an aesthetic accessory. Doesn’t seem immoral to me. Further, one could design a gun as an aid to genocide or something maniacal like that. Another person could use the gun for self defense or for target practice. This violation of the intent seems totally moral, in fact more moral. I think the consequences of the use count more than the original intent of it.

Lust divorces the two things God designed to be together; it seeks the pleasure apart from the purpose (4907).

Splenda divorces the two things God designed to be together; it seeks pleasure apart from the purpose (both the nutritive and the recreative act of eating. If we separate them, that is a violation of natural law).

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,5 tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’6 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” [that is, they refuse the divinely designed “otherness” built into sexuality]. “Under no circumstances can they be approved” (4942).

They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. . . . [U]njust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358) (4949).

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is such a method. It is much more reliable than the old “rhythm method”, as reliable as “the pill”, has none of the pill’s side effects, and fosters such great intimacy and communication among its users that they have a 1 percent divorce rate as compared with society’s 50 percent (4975).

Would love to see the basis for this. The first claim seems wildly implausible. The second is somewhat believable. (This link makes this claim suspicious. At first blush, the pill seems about twice as effective.)

Even if all this teaching is not fully understood by one’s reason, it should be believed by faith; for being a Catholic means believing the Church teaches with divine authority given to her by Christ, her Founder, and therefore this must include believing some things on God’s authority, not our own (4993).

Large families are another sign of the radical difference between the outlook of the God of life and “the culture of death” (5001).

The Church cannot allow divorce, as almost all Protestant churches do, because she does not have the authority to contradict Christ her Master. “The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble (5019).

It would not be “compassionate” for the Church to allow divorce. The Church forbids divorce precisely because she is compassionate, and knows that divorce “brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society” (CCC 2385) (5036).

You could say also that forcing a bad relationship to stay together brings grave harm to the two people who are prevented from improving their lives, to the children traumatized by an ascerbic relationship, and because of its contagious effect which forces other poor relationships to stay together lest they be looked down upon.

In a society where half of all marriages end in divorce, the Church mercifully locks the exit door to that tragedy (5040).

This seems a painfully naive. Should we really assume that all these marriages are better if forced together? To me that could easily also be a tragedy in a volatile relationship. I find this attempt to frame the issue in terms of mercy somewhat dishonest and upsetting. It is fairly blatant spin on the issue.

Chapter 9: The Seventh and Tenth Commandments: Social and Economic Morality

It is like wine, which is designed by God “to gladden the heart of man” (Ps 104:15) but which is easily abused by man to “sadden” rather than “gladden” (5214).

Could we apply the same ideal to marijuana?

This respect for things in nature is demanded especially by animals, the next highest material creatures after man. “Animals are God’s creatures. . . . By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.3 Thus men owe them kindness (5223).

On the other hand, though animals have feelings, they do not have immortal, rational, and moral souls; they are not persons. “Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing” (CCC 2417). And “[m]edical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives” (5226).

On the one hand, “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly It is likewise unworthy to spend money on| them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery One can love animals”, but “one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons” (5230).

“God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them. . . . It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones (5287).

Effective altruists have an enormous edge over Catholics in this area.

Chapter 10: The Eighth Commandment: Truth

The crucial importance of truth for morality is not generally understood today. People are rarely taught that morality is more than kindness and compassion, more than good intentions, even more than love. For love without truth is not true love (5394).

I’m glad to see this reflected in the religion. I wish there was more stress on this though. I can’t think of Catholics who reflected this as well as the skeptic or rationalist communities.

the categories of “human nature” and “natural purpose” come up as central and indispensable to Catholic morality. They are simple, commonsense concepts, but modern sceptical philosophers have made them unpopular for the first time in history.) (5439).

“—of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them” (CCC 2477) (5480).

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