Sunday, June 01, 2008

Karl Keating vs. Peter Ruckman

On YouTube today, I found this debate between well-known Catholic apologist Karl Keating, of Catholic Answers, and Peter Ruckman, of the Bible Baptist Bookstore.

Each segment is over two hours long. I'm only an hour into the first one right now. My first impression is that it's way too disorganized. The lack of direction is disappointing. I don't think that's fair to the listener, who deserves debaters who are prepared for and dedicated to a more specific topic. Nevertheless, they address interesting and poignant issues.

Peter Ruckman has a lot of charisma and is a more entertaining speaker, replete with zingers and cute digs. Karl Keating, not as polished or as good on his feet as his counterpart, is, in my opinion, much more reasonable and intellectually honest, able to address issues directly without cheap shots. He did a good job considering he's not the best public speaker, is on the defense, and is in the midst of a "hostile" audience. Give it a listen if you have the time and inclination. Note that the video is of poor quality.

I just can't believe Karl Keating never had any hair. This video is from the 1980s. It's like Doctor Emmit Brown of the Back to the Future movies -- there was never a time when he had hair.

PS: The book Karl Keating wrote is a masterpiece: Catholicism and Fundamentalism -- The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians." It was very helpful to me when I first began my journey toward the Catholic Church.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Early Witness Puts 'Soul Sleep' to Rest

Just as Jehovah's Witnesses believe, I grew up believing that when a person dies, he or she remains in an unconscious state until the resurrection of the dead. I believed our souls could not survive the body. I believed this to be the biblical understanding, and that Christians believed this until pagan philosophy infiltrated the Church, certainly by A.D. 325 at the Nicene Council.

The orthodox Christian understanding (which I now hold) is that the soul indeed survives the body and awaits the resurrection, in which our souls are reunited with our resurrected, glorified bodies.

This morning, I was re-reading St. Clement's epistle to the Romans, and I came across a passage that struck a chord with me several years ago. Clement, who lived from A.D. 30–100, is likely the associate of the apostle Paul (see Philippians 4:3). He was the fourth bishop of Rome, following Peter, Linus, and Cletus.

His letter is quite early, dated at A.D. 97 at the latest—way before the "evil" influences of the emperor Constantine. The letter possibly could have been written while the apostle John was alive. Here is a passage I want to share with you:
But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.
Clement describes the apostles as being in his "own generation," and upon their deaths, Peter and Paul (1) "departed to the place of glory" and (2) "went into the holy place." These would be strange descriptions if he believed in soul sleep. Neither did he act like he was introducing a new doctrine. He wasn't even attempting to explain the state of the soul at death. He merely wrote of martyrdom and spiritual heroes.

No longer must I contrive excuses for St. Paul, for example, when he speaks of being "absent from the body" and "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). The natural meaning of his words are perfectly reasonable when I consider the beliefs of the early church—even those who personally knew the apostle. If this is the same Clement that is mentioned in Scripture, Paul called him a fellow laborer whose name was written in the book of life.

One thing that my Jehovah's Witness friends—and I myself, years ago—misunderstood is that Catholics do not believe that our reward is merely "when you die, you go to heaven." Instead, Catholics teach that our ultimate reward will involve the bodily resurrection, when our souls are reunited with our bodies.

The dispute boils down to whether the soul exists consciously during the interim. While that is the dispute, it was not a dispute during the time of the apostles and in the first generations of the Church. It was taken for granted.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Catholicism and the Search for Truth

I was told yesterday that I was "not a Catholic at heart." The reason? I believe in a "personal relationship" with Jesus.

The non-denominational Christian woman who told me this is baffled that I could turn to Catholicism. She passionately explained the importance of living righteously, of letting the blood of Jesus cover me, of putting all my trust in Him. Christianity is not about academic understanding, but about walking with the Lord.

I could not argue with her impassioned plea.

Over the last few weeks, I have been targeted by a Jehovah's Witness, who, last weekend, brought an ex-Catholic JW to help pry me from Rome's grip. She and her literature said we must search earnestly, humbly, and with a teachable spirit before Jehovah reveals to us "the Truth." There is only one Truth, one religion. Differing, competing religions cannot all be true. We must reject man-made traditions that would replace the Word of God.

I could not argue with her logic.

Yet, neither of these women will accept that their understanding of Catholicism is misguided, for Jesus is the Truth at the center of Catholicism. He is the only path to salvation. God alone is to be worshiped. Holy Scripture is practically the air we breathe at Mass.

Instead, these gentlepersons (whom I respect) insist on portraying a hackneyed caricature of Catholicism: Catholics worship idols. Catholics worship Mary and the Saints. Catholics can go sin as long as they go to Confession. Catholics ignore Jesus. Catholics don't believe in the Holy Spirit. Catholics believe they can earn their way to Heaven. Catholics aren't "born again." Catholics don't "go by the Bible." Catholics worship the Pope. Catholics think the Pope can do no wrong.

These characterizations can agitate me, yet I'm patient because I once believed the same things about Catholics. Perhaps my patience is sometimes misunderstood as "coming around" to anti-Catholic schools of thought. Instead, I see this patience as a virtue; there's no sense in constantly whacking non-Catholics over the head with Catholic insights in every discussion. (That's what this blog is for!)

I was drawn to Catholicism because I was open to "truth," because I wanted to reject man-made traditions that conflict with the Word of God, because I believed in Scripture, because I believed in a "personal relationship" with Jesus.

Had I not investigated authentic Catholic teaching with these principles in mind, I would have remained ignorant as a non-Catholic. Too many people automatically reject Catholicism because they think they understand it, but don't.

Don't believe disgruntled ex-Catholics, don't believe priests or bishops in schism with the Church, don't believe Jack Chick comic books, don't believe convincing Protestant pastors -- read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the Church Fathers. Talk to well-grounded members of the clergy. Listen to faithful Catholics. Go to primary sources of information.

If there's something that troubles you, don't assume Catholicism is automatically wrong. Ask for clarification. Debate Catholicism with an open mind. Seek answers. Feel free to walk away if you have searched for answers and are convinced they are wrong, but don't fall into the trap of misrepresenting the Church's teachings, and hating the Church based on misunderstandings.

Bishop Fulton Sheen's words are indeed true:
There are not over a hundred people in the U.S. that hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Anything Goes" in the Marriage Bed?

It is said by a number of individual Christians that "the marriage bed is undefiled," and by that they mean "anything goes" in the bedroom as long as you're married.

This has been said to justify sodomy, artificial contraception, sadomasochism, wild role playing, and any number of perversions of the marital act.

The scripture these people reference is often misunderstood because of the awkward wording of the King James Version (according to today's English style):
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge (Hebrews 13:4).
Read from a certain perspective, this can seem to say all things are acceptable in the marriage bed.

But read it again in another translation, such as the New American Standard Bible:
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
Go back to the KJV's rendering, and you can understand it in a new light. It's contrasting a wholesome marriage and its undefiled bed with whoremongering and adultery. Bring those things into the bed, and that bed is now defiled.

This scripture has to do with marital chastity. It does not intend to say that all degenerate or selfish imaginations are okay as long as you're married.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why I Love Money Even More In Envelopes

Several years ago, a coworker recommended Microsoft Money to me. MS Money is a popular personal finance program for the PC. I loved it, so I wrote a post called "Why I Love Money." For what it does, I still like it better than its competition, but I no longer use it. My approach to managing personal finances has evolved, and I no longer find Money all that helpful. I found a system that works much better for me.

Promoting MS Money, I wrote,
On its start page it even tells me with a bar chart how close I am to reaching my preset monthly spending limit when it comes to groceries, dining out, and miscellaneous costs.
That is what excited me most: keeping within my budget's boundaries. If I did that, my perfectly planned budget would work. So I liked that MS Money kept me informed as I reached my predefined limit.

The problem was that my wife had the checkbook, and I had the debit card. She didn't know (or care) about what my computer program said, and I didn't know what checks she was writing.

In the evenings, I would update our spending in Money. Every penny I spent, I categorized. It didn't matter how big or small, I was going to track it. As we had different schedules, I didn't always dig into my wife's purse for the check book to see what she spent, so I would track it when it eventually cleared the bank. Sometimes she spent more than what was in my perfect budget, and I had already swiped the card for milk or bread or other small items. The theory behind my system was good, but it didn't come without costly complications. Dang those overdraft fees -- dang them to heck!

On top of that, I would spend $30 to $40 every year on the latest version of MS Money to ensure that I had the latest bells and whistles.

In the long run, it just didn't work out for me.

Enter Dave Ramsey

Last year, a different coworker introduced me to the writings of Dave Ramsey (pictured above when I attended his Dallas conference last month), a personal finance expert. His brilliant yet stunningly old-fashioned tips and financial philosophies have revolutionized my money management. His book Total Money Makeover was most influential.

I highly recommend the book -- and I could write one of my own to explain all I have learned since then -- but I want to share with you the one concept that has meant a world of difference to my family's finances: The Cash Envelope System.

Wal-Mart and Entertainment Envelopes
This simple concept has saved us a tremendous amount of money. I have of course devised the perfect budget for us, but it takes an envelope to actually execute it. Each time I get paid, I cash out the amount my wife and I agreed to spend at Wal-Mart, which is nearly synonymous with "groceries" (though it includes other household items). I place this cash in an envelope that I pick up at my bank's ATM machine, and I label it "Wal-Mart $."

I take another predetermined amount of cash and place it in an envelope labeled "Entertainment."

It's amazing how this one practice has improved our finances. Never is there a bounced check, never is there an overdraft fee, never is there any miscommunication. When there is no more money in the Wal-Mart envelope, we stop spending at Wal-Mart. It's that simple. It doesn't even require me to be at my computer to look at a bar graph! And I don't have to remind my wife how much is left in our grocery budget. She can see for herself what's left in the envelope.

When we go out to eat or see a movie or play, we don't feel guilty. We enjoy it more, because we don't worry about whether we're taking away from our other financial obligations. We included it in our budget. And when the envelope is empty, no more fun till the next paycheck. That helps us to be more responsible with our fun.

This saves money on checks, which are expensive. (I pay all my monthly bills online -- without checks.) Spending cash, which seems archaic these days, also keeps us from overspending. It's hard to spend cash out of an envelope, because you feel like you're spending. You have a stash of money one moment, and then you see it being depleted the next. It's more visual and therefore more painful than swiping a card and typing onto a keypad. So we don't spend as impulsively.

This has been the most helpful (and cheapest) tool that has made the most difference to us.

"Envelope" Check Register Spreadsheet
The second most helpful tool has been this free, downloadable spreadsheet I found at the "It's Your Money" Web site. I use this instead of Microsoft Money or Intuit's Quicken. It's like having virtual envelopes, following the same principle as my real envelopes. Get the spreadsheet here.

The idea is to give a name to every dollar of your paycheck before you get it. On pay day, I simply enter into the spreadsheet how much money I'm allocating to each category in my budget. When the sum of these amounts equals the total amount of my paycheck, I stop. This method insures that every dollar has a purpose. Anything I spend on food or fun during the week comes out of our cash envelopes, and I feel no need to track every penny or document precisely what was spent and when (thereby saving a lot of time). I only open the spreadsheet on pay days, when I pay the bills for that pay period. And when I pay bills, or spend anything else online, it must come from one of these categories that I set up. So I always know what we can and can't afford. I know that even though I may have a "large" amount of money in the checking account, every dollar already has a purpose. I don't freak out if I have to buy a couple new tires for the car, because I have an "auto expenses" category that's just waiting for me. It's all on the spreadsheet.

I love it, hence this post, "Why I Love Money Even More In Envelopes."