Does it matter what you believe?

8 comments

Does it matter what you believe? Or do you just have to be a “good” person? Can you still call yourself a Catholic or a Christian if you don’t actually believe the doctrine that defines what those mean?

Fr. Barron opines and discusses what it means to be a “good” or “loving” person (video below).

We measure the “goodness” of our actions by what we believe. So if we believe wrongly, then we may do good wrongly. That’s why your beliefs matter. And it’s why knowing the truth about Goodness (about God) is essential to knowing if your actions are actually good. Otherwise you’re just guessing.

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kyledeb November 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

I stand on the same side of this argument as Fr. Barron, but I can’t help but feel that the way it’s presented here is full of holes. I like the idea of Kant’s wedge, but it pretty much ends there. I’ll try and come up with a more systematic critique of this, but just some critiques that come to mind, right now, is where was the Catholic Church on slavery while it existed? What about systems where these doctrines supposedly existed and millions still died?

It’s one thing to speak to the choir, it’s another to present speaking to the choir as a useful argument against secularists who won’t buy this for a second. Religious people need to do a better job of finding a way to meet secular people where their at and bring them on the path towards Truth.

Matthew Warner November 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

Kyledeb – I think it’s a bit unfair to expect a 5-10 minute youtube clip is going to present a comprehensive answer to an issue this complex and huge. I’m sure Fr. Barron would admit that it’s not supposed to be such an answer, but an introduction to it to help people begin to think about the issue differently while still making very convincing basic points. Obviously, in the human experience and all of the complexities that go with it, there are reasons where evil still happens even when “these doctrine supposedly existed.” But, that’s because the human experiment is not one with only a single control variable (doctrine or no doctrine)…but one with an infinite number of uncontrolled variables to go with it.

As for “speaking to the choir” I agree that we have to do a much better job of learning how to speak to secular people. But I think Fr. Barron is one of those doing a good job of breaking out – you should check out his many other youtube videos. He’s had a lot of success there reaching non-religious people. But we must do a better job still.

As for the Catholic Church and slavery, that in itself is an issue with a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. Here’s a good article that addresses that here.

Thanks for your thoughts!

kyledeb November 25, 2011 at 10:57 am

If the subject of the video is “what you believe makes a difference,” then I think it is fair to hold it to a higher standard, especially when broad and sweeping claims are made about certain systems without even an acknowledgment of the fact that other systems have cause just as much harm. That I hold Fr. Barron’s statements to a higher level shouldn’t be taken as a sign of disrespect, but as a desire for us to do better in proclaiming the value of the Word.

Thanks for the article on slavery. That certainly provides a nuanced point of view, but continues to paper over the way the Church treated indigenous peoples in the Americas, a history I know well as a student of Bartolomé de las Casas. It’s right to be defensive over discrimination against the Church, but not at the cost of being in denial. We do ourselves more harm than good by doing so.

Matthew Warner November 26, 2011 at 10:24 am

I don’t take it as disrespectful at all. I just think you might be holding it to an impossible standard- which of course is unfair. On the one hand you are asking us to do a better job of communicating this message to a secular audience, and then in the same breath you are asking it to include every caveat under the sun. These are contradicting ideas.

One key way to reaching a secular audience (and most any audience these days) is doing so with brevity – i.e. getting to the point. If we insist on making every caveat to every point then people lose the primary point. It’s a fundamental principle of effective communication that what you leave out is just as important as what you say.

And I think Fr. Barron is implying in his point that when such systems of good doctrine there has occurred “such harm,” that it wasn’t due to the doctrine that such harm occurred. Again, that would be an in depth tangential discussion and if he chose to make it here it would dilute or obfuscate his primary point he’s trying to plant in this short video.

If you want to add something to expand on the discussion and point Fr. Barron is making, please do so in the comment section here. That’s what it’s for.

As for slavery, I don’t think the Church has tried to deny any wrong doing where there was legitimate injustice. It has no reason to. But again, to the extent that Church teaching (the doctrine or “system” in question here) was adhered to successfully, the issue of slavery was helped. To the extent that members in the Church ever made slavery worse, it was most certainly despite its doctrine, not because of it. And that’s the point here. Our system of beliefs, at their core, fundamentally support and promote “goodness.” Whereas these other “systems” fundamentally distort goodness.

kyledeb November 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Good points. In terms of appealing to a wide range of people, brevity is an important characteristic of appealing to a secular audience. If we agree on that, I guess the point I’m making here is that pointing out “godless” systems, especially ones far from the experience of the target audience and that arguable no longer exist, is not a good use of that brevity. ”

I probably have nowhere near the wisdom that Fr. Barron possess, but I would have chosen examples closer to home when arguing the point he was arguing, because it’s a good one. I’ll leave it at that for now. Apologies if you didn’t feel I was being productive with my points. I was trying to be but it might not have come off that way.

Matthew Warner December 21, 2011 at 11:26 am

kyledeb – what do you think would be better examples to give to show how beliefs have consequences?

kyledeb December 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I guess one of the reasons I felt so strongly about this video is because much of what brought me to Catholicism is the strength of its practice. If God greater than anything I can hope to articulate or think on, then I can’t rely on just my mind to walk towards Him, but I need other things, like practice, community, art, sacred time, etc. to help me walk the right path.

Watching this video made me realize I am sometimes going to far in my emphasis of practice (though the practices within the Church are based on doctrine) and this idea of Kant’s wedge seemed a really powerful way to emphasize that. I would get into more of Kant, but if I we’re trying to brainstorm ways that beliefs have consequences, I guess I would focus more on what’s relevant to individual people rather than on systems that are easy to distance from ourselves.

Scripture is full of examples of the importance of believing in Our Lord, but if we were trying to appeal to secular audiences, we could try to come up with other examples. I’m just thinking off the top of my head, right now, but believing in the rules to certain sports, might be a good example. If you’re learning how to play basketaball, you don’t just throw a bunch of people together with each of them having their own sense of the rules and how to be a ‘good’ player. There’s a set of rules everyone has to learn, that become second nature with practice, and make for an incredibly fun game for people playing and for people watching. Doing so requires people to believe in them, though, before they even learn to play. What do you think, Matthew? Any better ideas for examples.

Key to Life February 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I don’t think it is Kant that drives a wedge between beliefs and ethics. It is people who don’t want to be held to the high standards of ethics that religion holds them to. What they mean by “I am a good person” is far below the standards that Christianity hold them to. First of all, Christianity thinks that we are basically sinners and that so because its criteria of goodness is very high. It includes compassion and benevolence even to our enemies. It is caring for the weak and vulnerable in our society. What people who say “I am a good person” mean by that is that they don’t harm anyone – and that is a negative condition of goodness. They don’t want the positive condition – I intercede for others. So they don’t want religion in their lives so they are not reminded of the fact that all people have infinite moral worth (not just me and my family). And it is Kant who held up such a high standard of morality saying that all human beings are ends in themselves and should be treated with respect. It was the utilitarians who think human beings can be treated as means.

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