Current Comment

Acting in Good Faith

In a pluralistic world, how can Christians best share the Gospel with people of other faith traditions? To begin, today’s evangelizers should understand the difference between proselytizing—attempting to convert individuals using coercion or force—and evangelization. Helpful guidelines can be found in a new document titled Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct, which was issued jointly on June 28 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance.

The result of five years’ work by more than 40 experts, Witness offers guiding principles for evangelization, stressing the need for respect and warning against the use of deception or coercion. The document states that Christians should avoid arrogance and condescension when in dialogue with people of other faiths and with one another, and they should recognize that the decision to change one’s religion is not an easy one. Those considering conversion should be offered sufficient time for reflection. In addition, the document states that Christians are called not only to recognize the good in all religions but to speak out against the actions of governments that deny religious freedom for people of any faith. All people must have the freedom to worship as they see fit.


The drafters have, perhaps, learned from their churches’ historical mistakes. Each Christian group has at times used coercion or rejected the religious freedoms of the others, said the Rev. James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. But these methods are never effective for evangelization. “It is the nature of faith that it be a free response,” Father Massa said. “A coerced faith is not faith.”

Lasting Institutions

June 16 was I.B.M.’s 100th birthday. It celebrated with a four-page advertising supplement in some newspapers that led with the headline, “Nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared.” Bad luck and poor choices led to some failures. But in most cases the failure came about because leaders were unable both to manage for today and to build for tomorrow.

I.B.M.’s founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr., built a corporate culture on basic beliefs and values that outlived him. This culture did not simply redo what he had done; it institutionalized why the organization exists: “Getting to the essential truths of what makes you you.”

The church does not suffer the same questions of survival. We believe that the founder is still with us, of course, and we try to live and to teach his essential truths. Still, our leadership has to deal with frequent crises and with major cultural shifts. To succeed it can learn, as I.B.M. has done, to keep moving into the future with a patient eye on the long term. And it can learn another lesson: “It’s not just about what you create. It’s also about what you choose to leave behind. Every institution, by its nature, favors the ideas, products and services that made it successful. Leadership often requires shedding emotional attachment to that heritage.”

As church leadership confronts great loss of membership and great deficit of credibility, what can it leave behind? Clerical privilege? Latin sounds and structures? Denunciation and condemnation? Exclusion and control?

I.B.M. has learned that “a profitable idea can come from many sources.” Can the church accept that a prophetic idea, Gospel-inspired and Spirit-filled, can also be so born?

A Men’s World

A new book, Unwanted Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl (Public Affairs), has awakened the public to a social policy in China, India and other countries that has forced a radical shift in the world’s population balance: a decrease in live births of girls. Under China’s one-child laws, for example, there is pressure in favor of male children, who can become future breadwinners and have higher social status.

Since the late 1970s, 163 million female babies have been aborted by families seeking a male heir. If nature is allowed to take its course, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Following human intervention, today India has 112 boys for every 100 girls. China has 121. Female empowerment, with the majority of women choosing to bear sons, has led to even more sex selection. An aimless population of young males is coming of age with not enough women available for each to marry. Societies in which men substantially outnumber women are unstable and violent. Unmarried men accumulate in the lower classes. Crime waves follow.

Does not this situation refute the absolutist feminist argument for abortion: that the only norm is the “mother’s choice”? By this norm, she and/or her family are free to kill the child merely for being a girl. How can society allow that? If women have the same rights as men and if social order requires a balanced sex ratio, the law should intervene to protect the child—both as a young woman and as a human being.

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Andrew Strada
6 years 6 months ago
Are you allowed to make up your own definitions of words?  The dictionary definitions of proselytize (from a variety of sources) contain neither the word coercion nor the word force.  Bending the language to make your point seems inconsistent with either intellectual rigor or honesty.
6 years 6 months ago

Blessed Mother Theresa once said that abortion would lead to nuclear war - and that if you want peace between and among nations, you need to fight to end abortion. Most people failed to see the connection.

But think about what legal abortion is: the state sanctioning the private killing of a human being who has been declared for purposes of law enforcement to not be a human person.

If the whim of a private person transmogrifies a human being into a non-person and this concept - the power of choice effects metaphysical and legal changes in reality - becomes ingrained in the public consciousness... why wouldn't civil strife and world war become more likely rather than less?

After all, no one is as innocent and defenseless as a pre-born human.... so if the pre-born can be liquidated at whim and rights to life come not from the fact that a human being is a human being but rather are BESTOWED on the weak by the strong..... it's not much of a logical jump for any powerful person to begin applying this moral and metaphysical premise against far less innocent human beings who stand in the way to some desired goal.

As for evangelization and coercion.... suppose the topic is not the introduction of Catholic Christianity to a pagan population, but the introduction of a materialistic hedonist world view into a traditionally majority Christian society?

I.e. Political correctness exercises.... suddenly coercion via threat of legal and social hostilities no longer has the negative connotations does it? Let someone run afoul of the Politically Correct world view and they run the immediate risk of a law suit, a media barrage, and calls by 'respectible society' to step down, etc.  - all in a land that prides itself on freedom of expression wherein pornography is considered an acceptible insult on many peoples' sensitivities so as to safe guard political speech.... but let someone say a single word that some highly favored minority has deemed unacceptible and there's hell to pay. Coercion? You betcha. Social stigma is instant. Legal and civil repercussions follow.

We see this working out in gay marriage too.... let someone opine that marriage is heterosexual and monogamous, and there are increasingly prominent calls for private, civil, and federal hate crime repercussions against that person for the temerity of disagreeing with what is marketted as 'the inevitable wave of the future".
The effect of someone being made an example of is that most people go underground - most companies and associations flee controversy and will pay the protection money rather than face an insurgency or mafia-like shake down. It's far eaisier in today's climate to be a materialistic hedon than an outspoken Catholic even though Catholics are a minority and minorities are supposed to be given all sorts of protections....

So my point is.... we Catholic Christians face far more serious challenges in the USA and western world with respect to coercion in our lives than secular hedons do and yet we are worried about the proper balance to strike when we seek to evangelize others? Have we no sense of proportion?

Loss of proportion is why some can get incensed by the military-industrial complex that at most may result in some war against 3rd world insurgents and a hundred thousand human beings killed per year..... while the same person is not at all miffed by the abortion-pharmacutical-industrial complex that routinely works to kill 1.3 million Americans per year in the name of personal 'autonomy' and sex without responsibility (for the man at least!). But if people are people and no individual is intrinsically superior or more valuable than another....why would war be "worse" than abortion?

Why would the theoretical threat of coercion in evangelization be more worrisome than the actual, current, regular operation of coercion in domestic social and political movements?

C Walter Mattingly
6 years 6 months ago
"As the Church suffers the abandonment of many of its mambers, what does it leave behind? Latin sounds and structures?"
Yes, such as the sacred music of Palestrina, Monteverdi, Mozart, and the many others, the great works of Michaelangelo, Giotto, etc, the treatises of perhaps the greatest philosopher-theologian of westerm culture, probably the greatest moral poem ever written in his latin-derived tongue, along with that poet's sonnets, perhaps the greatest architectural and artistic triumph in the history of western civilization in Chartres, Jerome's monumental translation of the Bible, and perhaps a few thousand other such examples.
"Clerical privlege?" Such as John Paul II taking two bullets to the gut and returning to risk his life again in his efforts at evangelization and religious freedom, culminating in his astounding, near-universal acclaim at his death. Or providing the parochial schools that allowed Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas, and Sonia Sotomayor and many others to climb from humble, disadvantaged backgrounds to the pinnacle of their professions.
"Exclusions and control?"
The reason that the church has survived for 2,000 years, with 1 of 6 human members of the planet earth associated with it, and its ranks of those leaving under the influence of materialism, atheistic secularism, sensual indulgence, etc, with even today those departing being replaced by others who accept the message of Christ as carried forward by his church, is the consistency and coherence of its message (which does indeed exclude hedonistic and self-centered lifestyles supporting abortion, unrestricted sexuality, and man as the center of the universe), which likely would have been impossible to maintain without its organizational controls and structure, including hospitals and schools worldwide and perhaps the most admired religious woman in Hindu India. Despite the many, sometimes monumental, failings that structure has experienced historically, scholars agree it was essential. One need look no further than the chaos and virtual tower of Babylon that quickly followed Luther's departure to see where the alternative lead.
The best and worst thing about the church is that it is slow to change. But cut it off from those traditions, and you have not a reformed church, but a dissolved church.
alan baer
6 years 6 months ago
"Does not this situation refute...?" Yes, it does not. Certainly the situation calls for serious reflexion, but I would suggest that we ask different questions. For example, does the situation suggest that a hypothetical spermicide that would target only the X chromosome would be morally objectionable? Does it suggest that, regardless of intentions, governmental and ecclesiastical interference with the biologically female prerogative of reproduction results in negative consequences of one kind or another? Our success in meeting the formidable challenges of our day will depend on the quality of our questions. Let's ask questions that draw people of all persuasions in to constructive dialogue with one another, not ones that are guaranteed to alienate.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 6 months ago
This leads to a question: do pro-choice (pro-abortion) feminists, generally speaking, support the elective abortion of the female unborn for the sole reason of their sex?
6 years 6 months ago
Being a witness , i.e. living the Catholic Christian Faith (as best we can) daily is to my mind the best approach to evangelization (sharing the faith).  This is the challenge as we are living in a pluralistic society.  The three parables in today's gospel reading are so helpful and so hopeful to ponder on.  Living among the weeds, waiting for the seeds to sprout and the yeast to rise take some real challenge for patience.  Sometimes I wonder if debating/discussing  (about current issues: gay marriage, abortion, etc) is productive.  The discussion seems to always deteriorate to name calling or demonizing each other's camp.  Perhaps we should heed St. Francis' exhortation to "yes, preach and use words if necessary!"  Demonstrating the faith through good works (and there are oodles of ways!) seem much more effective to attract others to the faith and the reality of Jesus.
Norman Costa
6 years 6 months ago
Re: Lasting Institutions:

Yes, IBM Corp deserves a great deal of pride in its success over the years. But, let us not forget that IBM came this close to being dismembered and sold off under John Akers. I know, because I was there. It was Lou Gerstner, principally, and the help of Chris York, initially, that saved the company. In the first couple of difficult years, the 'old guard' continued to lie to the CEO and play with the numbers. Eventually, he put together a task force to identify them and fired the lot of them. 

It is literally true that most of the board and many of the top executives had NOT A CLUE as to what was going on in the industry. Many within IBM did, but the Assistants and toadie top executives around the CEO would not tell John Akers the truth. Before his predicessor, John Opel, telling the truth was not a problem. We had a contention system of management that allowed truth to surface.

Then one day John Opel commanded the following: If I am given all the information, I will always make the right decision. If a mistake is made, it is because I was not given all the information. It is rare that we can identify one defining moment upon which the fate of an entire institution can turn. This was it. From this point on, John Opel's managers and assistants made sure that Opel was told what he needed to hear. Why? Because of the narcissistic coward of an executive that he was, he commanded that he was immune from making mistakes, and any mistakes that are made are the responsibility of someone else.

When John Akers held the public press conference to announce the New CEO, Lou Gerstner, he said, in effect, that he had made all the right decisions, and announcing the new CEO is an example of another right decision. When the session was turned over to the press, John Akers was asked, in so many words, how he could have screwed things up so badly. Akers first corrected the reported for mispronouncing his name. Then he turned and left the stage. In my personal opinion, it was the very moment when he could no longer deceive himself, and realized that the truth was thrust upon him, and from which he could not escape. 

I often though to write about the parallel between the Church's decision making and the dysfunctional leadership of IBM through the Chairmanship of John Opel and John Akers. I think the reader can draw his own correlations. 
6 years 6 months ago

Editors “Current Comment” offers much food for thought and for postings, but I’d like to focus a little on one line. “As church leadership confronts great loss of membership and great deficit of credibility what can it leave behind? Clerical privilege? Latin sounds and structures? Denunciation and condemnation? Exclusion and control?” Yes, all of the above! But it seems to me,  the fuel sparking all of the above mentioned negatives is “control. ”The church is trying to pull its stampeding  sheep turned bull-like back to more controllable environments. Just as in photography negatives produce positives, so too, by way of the negative of revisionism, the church hopes to produce a positive result. But I’m afraid the effort will produce a distorted image of Jesus, nothing other than a puzzling picture, a picture-puzzle with pieces missing!

I think this revisionist trend is best observed in the messing around with the liturgy, reforming the reform. From my perspective it makes the Council Father of Vatican II look like a bunch of incompetent know nothings! The Holy Father Benedict XVI  is an academic without peer, a scholar of the highest order, a man of personal holiness, but respectfully, from what I hear  lacks “in the trenches” pastoral experience. He leads the charge, in the company of individuals who were never content with what I think the Holy Spirit said at the Council. They want Tridentine liturgy  fully installed with all its pomp and splendor, its ornate, stiff as cardboard Romanesque vestments with full length girly-like lace albs, And that useless Maniple! Etc., etc., etc. I’m convinced that our church cannot long tolerate two styles of liturgy as now exists. One or the other will win out and I’m afraid it will be Tridentine. And once again we’ll be praying to an unknown God in a foreign tongue! Of course some of the church’s Latin hymns are beautiful and I have no squawk about retaining them. They do uplift!

Sure, the liturgy in places does need some reforming, but one doesn’t have to “undo” Vatican II, just “redo” in places where implementation of Council intent went astray. If that’s what the Holy Father is trying to do, I can live with that. It’s just that tearing apart central parts of the Council which we were told was Holy Spirit inspired, in slashing revisionism, upsets me. Is the Holy Spirit now inspiring the revisionism, changing his mind? If God can change his mind that’s frightening!

So how do I solve my dilemma? Aquinas comes to mind in how he handled what is now the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Angelic Doctor had trouble accepting that undefined, but longstanding belief of his day but said if the church ever defined it as dogma he would wholehearted accept that decision. If the Holy Father has in fact set in motion a revisionist outcome backsliding to Tridentine mentality, I’ll wholeheartedly accept it. May Solomon’s request for Wisdom be the Church’s trusted route!

Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago
@ Bruce:

Very interesting and thoughful comment. I appreciate the fact that you referred to a personal dilemma. It can't be easy.

"If God can change his mind that's frightening!" He's done it before. It's nothing new. Jack Miles talks about this in his "God: A Biography." He treats God, in the bible, as a literary character and does a critical literary analysis. 
6 years 5 months ago
Thanks Norman, for your response to my posting. Yes, the thought that God could change his mind is for me frightening, because it makes me wonder if he could ever stop loving . I can’t think of anything worse than that! I’m not familiar with the work of Jack Miles who believes that God can change his mind. I am however familiar with theologian Terrence Fretheim from his little book, “Creation Untamed” in which he tries to explain how God can allow natural disasters that kill innocent people  etc. He says that God gave creation the ability to create itself as helper to the Creator God a decision that God was sorry he had made considering how disastrous creation can be. The same natural laws that sustain life like Gravity which holds things in place also allows flooding to happen etc. It’s a very interesting thought that God can actually repent for having allowed things to happen independently of him, wishing that he had taken tighter control of things. The book is small, in places hard to grasp but extraordinarily thought provoking. But Frethein says that God never stops loving and that’s reassuring! Again  thanks for your comment and hopefully this reply makes a little sense to you.   Bruce
Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago
@ Bruce:

It made a lot of sense. You might find the book review by John Borelli, "Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy," of interest - as well as a comment by myself and Angela Marczewski. Read more HERE.

During the Papacy of JP2, and during the early HIV-AIDS crisis, people were debating whether sexually active homosexuals who were infected were being punished by God. A reporter caught JP2 moving between meetings and events in the Vatican and asked him if God was punishing homosexuals. The Pope stopped in his tracks and fell into a deep pensive few moments. He turned to reporter and said, in a very deliberate and serious way, "It is very hard to know the Will of God."

I think his answer would have been unsatisfactory to both sides of the "Is God punishing..." argument. Yet, I think it was an extremely good answer.

One of the most profound ideas in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is that God created humankind in His own image and likeness. Yet, we find it impossible to really understand God, so we have to make Him in our image and likeness by saying, God wants. God is sad, or regrets, or promises not to do something again, or plays favorites, or gets disgusted with us and becomes wrathful and vengeful. A God that behaves and feels like us is a very human God.

There are no words to describe God. Some traditions express this as "The tongue cannot soil [God]." Yet we try, as best we can because we have nothing better than our own language and experience. Another approach is viewing our conception of God to be but a manifestation of something so completely beyond our understanding and beyond our ability to describe. If we knew how God worked or felt or why he changed his mind or if he did change his mind, then there is no mystery, no transcendent experience, and no need for faith.
6 years 5 months ago
Thanks Norman, for your response to my posting. Yes, the thought that God could change his mind is for me frightening, because it makes me wonder if he could ever stop loving . I can’t think of anything worse than that! I’m not familiar with the work of Jack Miles who believes that God can change his mind. I am however familiar with theologian Terrence Fretheim from his little book, “Creation Untamed” in which he tries to explain how God can allow natural disasters that kill innocent people  etc. He says that God gave creation the ability to create itself as helper to the Creator God a decision that God was sorry he had made considering how disastrous creation can be. The same natural laws that sustain life like Gravity which holds things in place also allows flooding to happen etc. It’s a very interesting thought that God can actually repent for having allowed things to happen independently of him, wishing that he had taken tighter control of things. The book is small, in places hard to grasp but extraordinarily thought provoking. But Frethein says that God never stops loving and that’s reassuring! Again  thanks for your comment and hopefully this reply makes a little sense to you.   Bruce
6 years 5 months ago

Hi Norman, In the midst of our back and forth my computer suffered a “heat stroke” or more truthfully a “memory problem” and so I couldn’t continue. I think the problem is fixed and will try to send this, which let it be in conclusion? Unless you want to continue.

 Thanks for the feedback. I’ll look into the sources you mentioned. One of the most understandable lines in scripture says, “Who has known the mind of God …?” We do know some important things about God like, he’s the prime mover in the creation/evolution process, Chardin says, “God makes things make themselves.” He’s Father and according to St. Paul we should address him as “Daddy” The Palestinian word “Abba” as you probably knows means “Daddy.” He is merciful - scripture says, “God’s mercy is above all his works” He’s incarnate, he can sweat, obviously needs to bathe, must also have normal bladder and colon function proper to humans. He can  weep, bleed, feel pain, get hungry,  get angry, likes to pray, likes to laugh (of course!) likes to eat and attend parties like the one at Cana, dance? - does anyone NOT dance at a Jewish wedding? Have some wine at the wedding with  the other guests,  get tempted, and so much more. In short God is more  than Divine - he’s also human. As a human can God change his mind as humans often do? A ponderous thought.

But what WE DO KNOW about God measured against what WE DO NOT KNOW is miniscule because first and foremost God is mystery and largely I think, UNFATHONABLE.  I think he’s first and foremost  mystery because he is love and there is nothing more mysterious than love.  Any one who has tried to love knows that love is a mystery,  is many splendored  but  can also be very punishing, a well-known human experience. So if God is actually  able to change his mind and decides to stop loving for example,  what a horror! A real hell! This has become rambly and I feel I’ve become like an infant uttering first words kinda garbled!!! Again Norman, thanks for writing and for  listening.    Bruce

Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago
@ Bruce:

I think this was a great exchange. I learned a lot. The one thing to consider about Jack Miles' book is that it is not a theological analysis, or a religious or spiritual work. He takes God as a literary character from the Hebrew bible and procedes as a literary critic. This is much like writing an essay on the character Hamlet in Shakespeare. He then approaches an understanding of God, the literary character, and trying to figure out what the 'human' authors were trying to say. For example, the early parts of the bible have God talking a lot, to a lot of people, and have a great deal to say. As time goes on, He speaks less and less. In Job, we have the last time anyone has heard from Him. After that, he is silent. 

In my opinion, from the few centuries before Jesus and continuing in Christian writings for a few centuries after, Jewish and Christian writing and commentary about God become more conceptual and abstract. The Gospel of John is loaded with Greek philosophy, Paul, especially in Romans, is heavily theological. An exception is the book of James. It is not God centered and there is virtually no theology. It is a practical prescription for leading a good life. Later we see the Eastern Churches becoming more mystical, and the Western Churches becoming more rational.

Does God change or does our understanding of God change? My personal view is that it is the latter, and it is informed by knowing the history of our ideas about God.



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