Quotes Suitable for Framing: CS Lewis

Sunday, January 3, AD 2016




In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.

CS Lewis

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Hard Sayings

Friday, September 6, AD 2013
Harrowing of Hell
Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.
Luke 13:22-30
Hell is apparently popular today on The American Catholic!  Go here to read Darwin Catholic’s first rate post on the topic.  My Bishop, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria diocese, is a good humored bear of a man.  He is also one of the most outspoken Bishops in the country, a fact I have often blogged about.  Here is a homily he preached last month on Hell, a place that most people would assume does not exist if one had to rely on what was heard today from most Catholic pulpits:
Jesus taught that our temporal choices have eternal consequences.  Jesus revealed there is not only an everlasting heaven but there is an everlasting hell.  Today’s popular, liberal Christianity tends to beige all of that over.  The God of our liberal therapeutic culture is usually presented as only a benign kind of higher force.  This concept of God is almost like a tolerant psychiatrist, who for… $400 an hour will patiently listen to absolutely everything we may have to say.  There is no right or wrong, no judgment and certainly no punishment for deliberate sin.  All the challenging and disturbing rough edges revealed in the Holy Scriptures are simply ignored or polished away.  A tame, almost domesticated God, without any real power or authority is invoked mostly for comfort and to ritualize our happy and sad occasions.  It’s nice to have a God something like Santa Claus invited to our baptisms, our marriages, our anniversaries and even our funerals.  But the one true God, revealed throughout the bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is certainly a God both mercy and of judgment.  The living God demands our obedience and insists that we love and serve Him with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul, and insists that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  God’s commandments are not optional.  The law of God is not a suggestion.  Sin is always a sham, a lie.  Sin promises so much but delivers so little.  And without any recognition of our sins there can be no experience of God’s grace. 
Why is your bishop ranting and raving about hell fire and damnation?  The short answer is I have no choice.  We do not choose the scripture readings for Sunday’s.  The Church chooses them for us and for our good.  In the course of three years of appointed readings we will hear the whole Gospel.  Not just words of comfort and joy, but also words of awe and trembling.  I, like all priests was ordained to preach Jesus Christ in season and out of season.  Not only his reassuring words but also His hard sayings, even His saying that if we do not repent in time in eternity we may find ourselves locked outside and hear the terrible words of judgment, I do not know you.  Knowledge of Christ without any recognition of our need of Him only leads to loss.  Just as knowledge of our need without any experience of Christ only leads to despair.
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19 Responses to Hard Sayings

  • St Augustine, the doctor of grace, preaching on the words, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith fail not” (Luke 22:32) says “Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” (Proverbs 8:35) therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail, what was it that He asked for, but that in his faith Peter should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.”

    He also says, in another place, “if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?”

  • Excellent homily! God demands holiness, and if it takes our unhappiness to make us holy, then guess what God will do to save us from the eternal fires of hell.

  • I have observed that secular associates are, in some ways, better (in some respects worse) people than I. However, they are not good because of Faith.

    I am not a good person. I try (varying degrees of success) to avoid sin and be “good” because of Faith and Jesus’ teachings.

    So, I pray many times each day and night, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fire of hell; take all souls to Heaven; and help especially those most in need of thy Mercy. Amen.”

    I also pray for the grace, courage and insight needed to repent of my sins; confess my sins; do penance; amend my life; and, through good, works glorify Almighty God.

    Also, I pray that I may love those whom I encounter; never let me do an evil thing; and not to be overcome by evil.

    I am not good. Only God is good. But, I believe in the “forgiveness of sins”, from the Apostle’s Creed.

    The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion. Desire the grace of final perseverence. Think of the Love which filled Christ’s Sacred Heart during His three hours agony on the Holy Cross; and ask that He be with you at the hour of death.

    And, don’t forget: frequent Confession.

    “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners; now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

    I’m not the brightest turnip in the bushel, either.

  • I preached on this gospel at Mass on the 21st Sunday, and made some similar points to your good bishop. Most people thanked me for it – but a couple of women raised an objection, when I referred to abortion. Its good to get that sort of reaction – its the objectors that the I design my homilies for.

  • Bravo Don! Better they hear it from you rather than from Christ when it is too late.

  • I appreciate the homily.
    I also pray very similarly to T Shaw. Being a mother and a teacher am conscious of responsibility to not mislead any of those entrusted to my care or teaching. (Remember the millstone)
    I am very interested in MPS contribution to this discussion and will retread thoroughly. The judgment of my son’s culpability in his darkness is up to The Lord but I am looking for comfort and help as the “wedding” date approaches.
    Oh Lady, Undoer of Knots pray for him.

  • Re: Don the Kiwi’s comment about abortion….I was thinking about the necessity of mentioning any particular sin when preaching on the result/punishment/wages of sin. Notice that the bishop did not mention any in particular. Distracts from the point for that day.

  • I didn’t think of distracting from the theoretical meaning of the post when I mentioned my son’s particular mortal sin. But now that I am thinking about it, I disagree with exNOAAman, if I understood him right.
    Keeping hell and the behaviors that lead to hell always in the abstract would make it hard to take homiletics about it out of the intellect to motivate behavior modification.
    Abortion, like homosexual behavior is serious sin- there may be levels of culpability for various reasons; that is for the Lord to decide. And it is a spiritual work of mercy to teach the Truth about sin and consequences. Can’t do that without mentioning what constitutes grave matter.

  • Anzlyne is correct. The prophets of old – Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc. – were exact and precise. St. Paul was specific in 1st Corinthians 5 about that sex pervert living with his father’s wife, and about Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1st Timothy 1. And St. John was specific in Revelation 3 about Jezebel at the Church in Laodicea.

    Those women at Don the Kiwi’s parish want to get all bothered about preaching on abortion? Then maybe their conscience is bothering them. It should. Jeremiah condemned the children of Israel for making their children walk through the fires of Molech, and warned them Nebuchadnezzar was coming to bring God’s judgment on their heads for what they were doing. I suspect Don the Kiwi was much more gentle than Jeremiah.

  • exNOAAman.

    I can’t link my homily here, but in context, it was in the latter part of my homily that I was referring to the baggage that will stop us from “entering the narrow door.” I had referred to politicians who take the soft option and introduce laws that are intrinsically evil, and that legality does not equate morality – e.g. Prostitution, abortion and same sex marriage, and that anyone who hold the view in full or in part that these things are okay should not present themselves for Holy Communion, conform their mind to the Church’s teaching, and attend reconciliation to be able to receive Eucharist. I’m here to promote the Truth of God’s teaching and not pussy-foot around it with nice words. Sometimes the Truth is not easy or pleasant – particularly in our distorted western society,.

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  • Thanks for the replies friends.
    Now that we have a chance to read DTK’s homily (other post), I don’t think I’d change anything.
    I guess I didn’t think it would be easy to make separate points, but Don pulled it off very well.
    As to the complainers he mentioned….it means folks were listening.

    God Bless…

  • The whole concept of sin is looked upon by many as an embarrassing relic unless it can be deployed in current political battles: the sins of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

    At my parish, Hell certainly exists and is the final destination for those who who will not do all in their power to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, and so end poverty, and so end abortion. In that order. In other words, they behave very much like they believe in Hell, for you and for me, if we will not consent to fix poverty first.

    Hell is very real for them. Anything less than material equality is sin. Falling short of equality of outcome is mortal.

    It’s rather a toxic environment in which everyone who doesn’t vote for Democrats is damned.

  • “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus asks His Father in heaven to forgive us, and Jesus will do what the Father will do. How do I or anybody know that their sins are forgiven, that they are forgiven?

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  • Don the Kiwi (September 6):
    Bravo. Keep it up. EWTN Foundress Mother Angelic—one of the best Catholic speakers I have ever heard—says that if you’re not a thorn in somebody else’s side you’re not doing your job as a Christian.

    Her Network and the host of devout and eloquent people on it, including GK Chesterton, Fr. George Rutler (my current Pastor, thanks God), Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Scripture Scholar Frances Hogan, and Peoria’s own golden-tongued Archbishop Fulton Sheen converted me 6 years ago—the greatest day of my life. None of them pulled any punches or minced any words or worried about hurt feelings when speaking the Eternal Words of Truth.

  • Excellent article. Sounds like they really preach the Gospel out in Peoria. I’m an Indiana boy myself and I now live in what I joking call the Catholic Diaspora of NY. I only say this because it seems that the Church has not only been placed on the back burner in recent decades but it’s almost off the stove. There is not much of a Catholic footprint on the culture. But in truth there are many devout Catholics here and many fine preachers—Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Fr. Jonathon Morris, and of course my own Pastor Fr. George Rutler who I consider the finest living writer and speaker I have ever read or heard. He certainly rivals your fine Bishop Daniel Jenky. His eloquent new TV Show “Parables of Christ” can be seen on EWTN. His new book “Principles and Principalities” on World War II depicts the courage of the Church and particularly Pope Pious XII in sheltering and saving countless thousands of Jews. It also tells the story of the cowardice and complicity of some Church members and politicians in that Armageddon-like conflict. And it also chillingly portrays many things going on then that are precursors of what is happening today: the atheism, barbarism, secularism, paganism, abortions, and anti-religious fervor and persecutions. Just one small point out of many: the company that made the Zyklon B gas for the concentration camps is now owned by the company that makes the morning-after pill—there’s still money to be made in the death business.
    And on the subject of Hell, Fr. Rutler’s sublime and almost mystical book on St. John Vianney “The Cure D’Ars Today” quotes a homily by the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, “Christ wept over Jerusalem…I weep over you. How can I help weeping, my brethren? Hell exists. It is not my invention. God has told us. And you pay no heed…”
    But today is no different. I have heard it said that people live by the philosophy of the Group Insurance Plan: If we’re all doing wrong, He’s surely not going to send everyone to Hell is He?–Don’t be so sure.
    But most are content to be Nietzsche’s Happy Man—all we care about is what’s for dinner and what’s on TV. But I think GK Chesterton said it right, “The pursuit of pleasure is merely the pursuit of fashion. The pursuit of fashion is merely the pursuit of convention, only that it happens to be new convention. But the enjoyment of convention is not really the same thing as the enjoyment of liberty.”

    While we pursue happiness in Chesterton’s words, “With a frenzy that proves that our pleasures don’t make us happy,” we could be pursuing joy. As Fr. Rutler says in a weekly column in the parish bulletin:

    “The joy of Easter is more than happiness, since happiness is a feeling while joy is a fact. Happiness comes from impressions, while joy comes from comprehension. Happiness with what is bad quickly turns to sadness. Joy is being happy with what is good. As only God is good (Luke 18:19), endless joy comes from encounter with Him who is eternal: “So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you” (John 16:22).”

    This is why I am so joyful on Sunday and it carries over through the week—well for the most part: to have a Priest that preaches about Hell and sin, Pro-Life and defense of marriage. He’s also a hero of 9/11 having jogged the 3 ½ miles to the World Trade Center disaster to administer The Sacraments of the Sick to the wounded and Last Rites to the dead.

    Would that he give Last Rites to the Culture of Death.

  • Very interesting Jamey. My husband and do both enjoy his teaching on EWTN. He has a way of saying hard sayings that is easy to swallow. Thinking of his teaching in relationship to Pope Francis’ recent comments, I would say he teaches “hard sayings” without condemnation, respecting the intelligence and interest of his listeners. Bishop Jenky also respects his flock (enough to speak on important issues) and does a wonderful concise job..
    We love our home parishes or dioceses. In my case our bishop is very good but he has his work cut out for him with the liberal tone and tenor here that he inherited. I wonder what it was like in Pope Francis’s diocese and what effect the Jesuit and South American outlook will have on his pontificate.

  • Thank you Anzlyne, I am glad you have a parish and diocese that you like. It took me 6 years to go and hear Fr. Rutler preach—it’s a one hour commute–but once I heard, I staid. Probably the same for some of the disciples in regards to our good Lord. -–No I am not in any way equating my Priest with my Saviour—But Fr. Rutler is such a jaw dropping speaker—much like Bishop Sheen & Chesterton (whom I’ve only seen via actor’s portrayals). But he says these profound things in such an eloquent way, and then follows with another elegant sentence, and then another, layer upon layer. It is just mesmerizing.
    Your Bishop Jenky’s homily was very fine. And yes we have a few million secularists in NY to deal with too. Fr. Rutler who is 67 was recently rewarded by Cardinal Dolan with a new parish in a tough neighborhood and a second church to be in charge of. I heard Fr. Rutler quip to a middle aged fellow, “You should try this retirement stuff.”
    Concerning respecting people, I like what Fr. Robert Barron said: that we should try to “like” those we encounter. That the word “love” has been used so much that in many ways it has lost its meaning. As Paul said in one of his Epistles, that we should eat with people and befriend them and then give them the message of Christ’s Gospel. It was St. John Vianney who first said that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
    Pope Francis is a very sweet and personable man, but I read somewhere that his honeymoon with the media will be over as soon as the veil of their illusions is removed and they discover that Pope Francis is strict Catholic Doctrine. When he says, “Who am I to judge?” he means not to condemn others. Paul said, “I don’t even judge myself.” We can judge behavior or ideas as right or wrong, but we can’t judge the other person. We shouldn’t even judge ourselves.
    But I think his activist approach to peace in Syria and elsewhere –united with worldwide prayer–is what the world needs now. God speed, Pope Francis.

Does Anyone Really Reject God?

Thursday, September 5, AD 2013

Kyle has written another post on hell, this one dealing with what he says, with at least some degree of accuracy, is the historically common belief among Catholics that many people will go to hell while few will be saved. (Personally, I have no opinion on the question of what ratio of people will go to heaven and hell, and other than warning people away from the one and towards the other, I can’t really think why one would have much of a position on the matter.)

It seems to me that there are two main points which Kyle martials to his cause. His first is that if many are damned, then God’s will has been frustrated, and unless we are prepared to think God a failure, we can’t think that many are damned:

If you say, as much of Christianity does, that God created the universe and specifically human beings–creatures made in his image and likeness–for the purpose of participation in the love life that is God, and you also say that most people will refuse this destiny, then logically you’re led to say that, overall, creation won’t achieve its purpose. Overall, it is a failure. Overall, the purpose for which God created goes unrealized. Overall, God’s desire and will are not done. This would seem to make God, as Creator, something of a failure, even if you can, through some dexterous theodicy, get God off the hook for the damning decisions of his hellbound creatures.

This is, as I recall, a complaint that many of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (or Revolt, if you prefer) were big on.

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8 Responses to Does Anyone Really Reject God?

  • St Thomas distinguishes between the antecedent and consequent will of God.

    “Whatever God wills absolutely, is done (otherwise He would not be omnipotent), although what He wills antecedently (or only conditionally) may not be done,” for in this instance God permits the opposite evil for the sake of a greater good; thus He wills antecedently that all the fruits of the earth come to maturity, but He permits that many actually do not reach this maturity [ST Ia, q. 19, a. 6 ad I]

    It is similar in the matter of the salvation of men. St. Thomas goes on to explain this in the same article (ad I ): On consequent or unconditional will. “The will is compared to things according as they are in themselves; but in themselves they are individual. Hence we will something absolutely inasmuch as we will it considering all its individuating circumstances; this is to will consequently.” Thus whatever God (omnipotent) wills absolutely is done; although what He wills antecedently may not be done.

    Antecedently God wills a thing according as it is good in itself, for example, that all men be saved, that all His commands be ever fulfilled; but at the same time He permits to some extent the opposite evil for the sake of a greater good, and thus “what He wills only antecedently or conditionally is not done.” Hence it is said in psalm 134:6: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven, in earth.” And the Council of Toucy (PL, CXXVI, 123) adds: “For nothing is done in heaven or on earth, except what God either graciously does Himself or permits to be done, in His justice.”

    But those who observe His commandments are better than others and would not keep them in fact, had not God from eternity efficaciously decreed that they should observe these precepts. Thus, these good servants of God are more beloved and assisted by Him than others, although God does not command the impossible of the others. Furthermore, this very resistance to sufficient grace is an evil which would not occur, here and now, without the divine permission, and nonresistance itself is a good which would not come about here and now except for divine consequent will.

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  • I have a hard time understanding how as catholics we could be painted as judgementers of the damned. With our belief in purgation, where else can we be made perfect for the delight of our Lord? My time/process may be painful, but I trust and hope in His glorious justice and my eventual full entry into His realm.

  • If you say, as much of Christianity does, that God created the universe and specifically human beings–creatures made in his image and likeness–for the purpose of participation in the love life that is God, and you also say that most people will refuse this destiny, then logically you’re led to say that, overall, creation won’t achieve its purpose. Overall, it is a failure. Overall, the purpose for which God created goes unrealized. Overall, God’s desire and will are not done. This would seem to make God, as Creator, something of a failure, even if you can, through some dexterous theodicy, get God off the hook for the damning decisions of his hellbound creatures.

    So what would be an acceptable batting average? His record with the angels is “a third part”.
    And why did God go out of His way to make things even more difficult for us? When Satan and his angels rebelled why not imprison them in Hell permanently rather than leave them free to tempt us?
    As parents we would not leave our kids free to play in a mine field where some lunatic is encouraging them to dance a jig.

    As for “natural law written on men’s hearts” — um, no.
    Reason and common sense would seem to tell us that a baby with Tay-Sachs, condemned to a short life full of pain should be aborted; that a train about to run over 10 people should be diverted so that it will kill 2 people. There seems to be an instinctive bias toward consequentialst bias morality while “natural” law requires a lot of study.

    Last, God sees a bit capricious granting extra graces to some for their salvation while ignoring others. Recall Theresa the Little Flower’s constant prayers for a condemned prisoner who finally repented.

    I know I’m may be cutting close to blasphemy here, but I’m sure these questions have been asked before.

    Last question: having rejected God, would the sould in Hell even desire to be in Heaven?

  • Thomas Collins

    The followers of St Augustine, whom the Church has called “the doctor of Grace,” maintain that in the state of innocence, that is to say on the day of the Creation, God had had both a general and a conditional will to save all men provided they desired it, through the sufficient grace He would give them for their salvation, but which would not unfailingly lead them to persevere in good.

    But that Adam, having through his own free will misused this grace and rebelled against God through a pure and simple movement of his will and with no prompting from God (which would be a hateful thought), and having corrupted and injected the mass of mankind with the result that they are rightly the object of God’s anger and indignation, they make plain that God has divided that body of mankind, all equally culpable and which deserve damnation, into that part that He wanted to save through an absolute will based on his mercy alone, entirely pure and gratuitous, and thus, leaving the other part in the state of damnation in which it was, and in which He could justly have left the whole mass.

    God’s will for the salvation of his elect cannot be frustrated. St Thomas says in Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” Likewise, in article 4 of the same question and also in Ia, q. 23, a. 4: “In God, love precedes election.” Thus, Scripture says: “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19); and “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.)

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  • i have not heard of a catholic teaching wherein the church teaches that there is some mechanism provided in creation whereby a soul that is unrepentant and defiant of God at the point the soul leaves the body (physical death) is able to reverse that defiance and repentant later. am i missing something. did Jesus teach us about be able to reverse our rejection of God after our deaths?

  • There is a sin against the Holy Spirit, that of final impenitence, which will not be forgiven in this world or the next. We cannot irrefutably identify any human person who committed this sin, not even Judas.

Choosing Hell

Tuesday, May 3, AD 2011

This post originally ran (I’ve cleaned up a few typos, but otherwise left it unchanged) back in 2006, but the topic has been on my mind, and having found it via Google while researching the topic of the Fundamental Option I decided to rerun this one rather than writing a new one.

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of “fundamental option”, which it seems is the theological term for the idea that one’s salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one’s salvation has a certain utility in that it is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia’s creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The ‘encounter God and choose’ image helps to emphasize that God’s judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of ‘salvation by choice alone’ the theory of ‘fundamental option’ becomes just as much a heresy as ‘salvation by faith alone’.

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24 Responses to Choosing Hell

  • In my eyes, the entire discussion about “fundamental choice” is easily misleading.

    The Church doesn’t say that after death there will be a moment when we can choose between (oh what a difficult choice) eternal suffering or eternal supernatural beatitude. I’ve heard of Medjugorie people who truly think this is what is going to happen, and this is extremely dangerous in my eyes.

    It is rather so, that if in our lives we decided to put ourselves willingly and deliberately in frontal conflict with God’s rule and we persevere in this to death, at that point the decision is taken altready. There is no necessity – and no possibility – of an expressly stated decision – absurd in his very object – of “oh yeah, I do want to go to hell”.

    The fundamental choice is, I would say, already included in the life we live and in the way we die.


  • Cool post. Oddly I don’t see this sort of stuff getting talked about all that much.

    I see where you’re going – and where Bl. John Paul II is going – with this thought, and I suppose we have to assume in this day and age that somebody is going to mis-interpret the idea behind the fundamental option to mean that you can choose or reject God the same way you can choose or reject sugar in your coffee. It’s just that the fundamental option is going to end up being an ontological option. A man, by his chosen mode of being, is going to choose one way or another; and that choice would have to be, I imagine, like the choice of the angels in the beginning: resolute and immutable. Unless we believe in apokatastasis now, which I suppose is also not out of the question in this day and age. :/

  • In her diary, St. Faustina writes of a “special light” or “final grace” given to every soul in need of it at the point of death. Yet, pace Mundabor, she also writes that even this is not sufficient to save everyone:

    “Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell; they make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to God for them and even the efforts of God Himself…” (#1698)

    As far as I know, Bl. John Paul II did not explicitly endorse this “interior vivid moment” in his promotion of St. Faustina and devotion to the Divine Mercy.

    In his “Death on a Friday Afternoon,” Fr. Neuhaus famously endorsed the “vivid moment” doctrine, but broke with St. Faustina in saying he couldn’t imagine anyone rejecting God under the circumstances.

    But I’ve understood the “fundamental option” doctrine to refer, not to the moment of death, but to a general tendency or inclination toward God with which one may live one’s life. One corollary of this is that, broadly speaking, there’s no such thing as a mortal sin; what is traditionally called a “state of grace” would be maintained, regardless of individual acts, for as long as the actor in some sense fundamentally chooses God.

  • I guess I’m doomed to hell because as an atheist my morality prevents me from respecting, let alone worshiping for all eternity, a being that purports to be a parent but allows its children to choose suffering for all eternity in hell. I wouldn’t even want that for the Osama bin Laden.

    It’s a lot of mental justification for a behavior that’s unjustifiable.

  • Michael,

    As an atheist, aren’t you kind of assuming that there’s no point where you’d be faced with the choice? Perhaps I presume too much, but I would assume that should you find yourself in such a position, a lot of things would be up for consideration very quickly, as some basic assumptions would have changed.

  • The following is from a sermon (sadly I no longer have the name of the priest) on St. Dismas’ “final grace” conversion and salvation.

    ” . . . Suffering accepted saves this gangster and changes him from a bandit into a saint — the first who entered paradise.

    “How mistaken those who think it easy to be saved after a life of sin, through a conversion at the last minute, like the good thief’s. He had to recognize his sins, renounce his past, accept his cross in the present and desire only the reward promised by Jesus. The conditions for being saved remain the same at the last minute as before: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mt. 16, 24).”

    St. Dismas not only was converted and repented, he also showed Our Lord compassion and to his unrepentant companion: charity.

    “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fire of Hell; take all souls to Heaven; amd help especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

  • “I guess I’m doomed to hell because as an atheist my morality prevents me from respecting, let alone worshiping for all eternity, a being that purports to be a parent but allows its children to choose suffering for all eternity in hell.”

    You would prefer a God that produced obedient robots or a God that gives us only an illusion of free will? Man was made in the image of God in that he has free will, just like God. As a result of that free will we can raise ourselves as high as the angels or debase ourselves as low as the demons, it is all up to us.
    As CS Lewis noted in The Great Divorce, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

  • Who made the rule that says you either obey God or suffer eternal torture? If I say to my child not to disobey me and he does and he persists in it do I have the moral right to torture him for months on end? Of course not, but some people believe God has the moral right to do this for all eternity. And what does it tell you about a God who has to make creatures who have to obey him under threat of damnation. It’s like a little boy with his plastic soldiers and when one disobeys him and won’t stand up because it was mal formed throws it in the stove to be destroyed.

  • How odd for an atheist to take this line of attack, unless you are against capital punishment, life imprisonment and all wars. You believe that life ends at the grave. All human societies have used various forms of punishment to enforce the laws they live by which often involve depriving a person of their life or depriving them of the enjoyment of it. What you accuse God of being society always is, to one extent or another. Such power is exercised by societies justly if the punishments are based upon bad conduct of the individuals so punished. We believe that this life is only a prelude to our lives in eternity and what we do in this life has eternal significance. Through our conduct and our conduct alone, we destine ourselves for eternal reward or eternal punishment. It is you who would reduce man to a mere automaton, a toy soldier in the grip of an all-controlling deity. Instead God made us his sons and daughters, free to love and follow him, or to hate and reject him.

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  • Michael,

    Part of the problem here is that you’re using a very primitive conception of hell and judgment. You say:

    Who made the rule that says you either obey God or suffer eternal torture? If I say to my child not to disobey me and he does and he persists in it do I have the moral right to torture him for months on end? Of course not, but some people believe God has the moral right to do this for all eternity.

    Now, I think that, correctly thought about, the punishment model for thinking about Hell is not unfair or irrational in the way you want to suggest, but let’s look at it this way instead, (which, incidentally, you can find in works such as C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)

    You want to make a comparison to a parent child relationship. Say, however, that your child says to you, “I hate you. I hate everything about you. I hate your house. I hate your food. I hate being near you. I want nothing to do with you.” Is it your belief that the good parent would respond, “Too bad, I’m going to lock you in the house and hold you in a big hug all the time so that you can see how much I love you!”

    No. This would be a denial of the rebellious child’s freedom, and indeed would almost be a form of torture. A good parent would try for a long time to bring the child around, but once that child grows up there will come a point when if the only thing that child wants to do with his freedom is go live under a bridge, drink malt liquor, never shower, and never see his family, the parent is going to be forced to allow that to happen.

    By the same token, if one of God’s creatures refuses to be near God, refuses to follow God’s will, refuses to have anything to do with God, there will come a point where God, if he is to respect our freedom, must let us suffer the consequences of our choices. Even if those choices are the to all appearances a choice to be utterly miserable.

    Sin is not so very different from the more obviously destructive addictions to which humans are subject — and when we insist on giving ourselves over utterly to sin and putting ourselves at an infinite distance from God, we are, by our freedom, able to create for ourselves our very own, private… hell.

  • I generally think of the inscription that Dante put over the gates of Hell when thinking about this topic:

    Per me si va ne la città dolente,
    per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
    per me si va tra la perduta gente.
    Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
    fecemi la divina podestate,
    la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.
    Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
    se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
    Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate

    Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope – Ye Who Enter Here.

    So to be honest, Hell itself is more an act of love than anything else. Or at least Dante chose to look at it that way. And it makes pretty good sense to me as well.

  • Der Wolfanwalt,


    One of the things that people who haven’t read Dante (or haven’t read him closely) seem not to get is that the damned in Dante are generally not being punished by some force outside themselves, their punishments are physical manifestations of the sins for which they are damned. The kingdom of hell is the land that they’ve built for themselves, in which their choices can be seen in all their reality.

    Dante himself, as the character in the poem, takes a while to catch on to this. With the lustful (who are being blown about by the wind just as they allowed themselves to be blown about by their passions) and the horders and the spendthrifts (rolling great boulders up and down hills at one another, just as they sought to make the piling up, or spending, of material things their highest good in life) he mostly feels sorry for them. It’s when he confronts the swamp of the violent, endlessly fighting each other while sunk in the mires of hatred, that he begins to really see the physical manifestations of sins as what they are and how people are simply doing now what they did before.

  • “So to be honest, Hell itself is more an act of love than anything else. Or at least Dante chose to look at it that way. And it makes pretty good sense to me as well.”

    Wolfie, I am shocked! We agree on something. The ending of the Paradiso sums up that God is Love:

    “But my own wings were not enough for this,
    Had it not been that then my mind there smote
    A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.

    Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
    But now was turning my desire and will,
    Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

    The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

  • Hey, Donald. You know what they say…if you’re in the same religion, there’s got to be something to agree on, right? 😉

  • Note, All: The site is undergoing some IT work this evening, so if any comments vanish into the hereafter, it’s not the rage of an angry God, but simply the servers migrating.

  • Yes, indeed a child may decide to turn away from his parents, so if he or she does then the child should “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” and where the child may cry out “have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” and “go away into everlasting punishment” where “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…”

    How can one have a sophisticated view of this sadism?

    There is an easy way out. You just say the Biblical writers were influenced by the prevailing ethic of their time that viewed eternal damnation as acceptable for heresy but not we know that is unsupportable. And just say the concept of hell is no longer believed, at least not for a good God.

  • “Yes, indeed a child may decide to turn away from his parents, so if he or she does then the child should “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.””

    It depends entirely upon the conduct of the person being judged by God. I can understand why a professed atheist would find the concept of judgment by a God after death that one has spent one’s life denying rather inconvenient.

    “There is an easy way out. You just say the Biblical writers were influenced by the prevailing ethic of their time that viewed eternal damnation as acceptable for heresy but not we know that is unsupportable.”

    Christ Himself spoke of Hell. Your argument is not with us, but with God, not an unusual situation for an atheist to find himself in.

  • “I can understand why a professed atheist would find the concept of judgment by a God after death that one has spent one’s life denying rather inconvenient.” First I spent the first 35 years of my life as a ardent believing Catholic and I’m old enough to remember all the pre-Vatican II sermons on hell that the Church is rather embarassed about now. Secondly I don’t find hell inconvienient, I find it immoral.

    “Your argument is not with us, but with God, not an unusual situation for an atheist to find himself in” Then you agree with me on this? :-> The trouble with arguing with God he never replies, you’a almost begin to think he wasn’t there.

  • “First I spent the first 35 years of my life as a ardent believing Catholic and I’m old enough to remember all the pre-Vatican II sermons on hell that the Church is rather embarassed about now. ”

    Now if you had only listened to them. Judging from your commenting on a Catholic website I would say you are as firm in your atheism today as you were in your Catholicism yesterday.

    “Then you agree with me on this? :-> The trouble with arguing with God he never replies, you’a almost begin to think he wasn’t there.”

    Oh he always replies. Some of us simply pretend not to hear him. The parable of Lazarus that you find so disturbing speaks to this:

    “27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
    28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
    29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
    30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
    31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

  • Bishop Fulton J. Sheen:

    A heckler asked Bishop Sheen a question about someone who had died. The Bishop replied, “I will ask him when I get to heaven.” The heckler replied, “What if he isn’t in Heaven?”
    The Bishop replied, “Well then you ask him.”

    A man told Bishop Sheen he did not believe in hell. The Bishop replied,
    “You will when you get there.”

    Pray for the conversion of sinners.

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  • The earlier exchanges are among the more interesting I’ve read on The American Catholic. I wonder if I might ask about a different part of the post though:

    “Virtue is often described as ‘the habit of doing good’ while attachment to sin is that moral habit which, once one has sinned, makes it hard to make the right choice in the future. Thus, the first time you lie in order to get out of a difficult situation, you struggle to make it come out convincingly and fear for days that your lie will be found out. But with each transgression the lie comes more naturally, until it becomes nearly impossible to tell the truth in a difficult situation — the convenient lie comes out without even thinking… It is because we are changed as moral agents by our past choices that our fundamental choice for or against God at the particular judgment cannot be divorced from the moral decisions we have made throughout our lives. Each time we sin or resist sin, makes it harder or easier to make that decision at the moment of personal judgment.”

    This does not match my experience. The opposite is often true.

    I have found that it is when I am CLOSEST to what He wants me to be that I am most and most cleverly tempted. Doing good and avoiding bad are certainly habits but I have come to think of Satan as a very real and dynamic person – one most anxious for the souls most difficult to acquire. It seems to me that he doesn’t extend more effort than is needed. If one is wallowing in a particular sin, he simply provides the opportunity and lets the sinner do the rest. However, if the sinner is truly sorry and begins to struggle for freedom, then it is though the particular attention of the beast focusses on him.

    I don’t know that I’m disagreeing but it seems to me that the more clearly one sees one’s faults and frailty, the more one clings to ever-present Mercy. Perhaps this is why greatness in human terms can be so terrible a curse.

  • It sounds to me like you’re saying one notices temptation most when one is trying to do right, but still has that strong tendency towards sinning. Which I would agree on.

    It seems to me that there is a tipping point where it becomes easier again, king of like the point in quitting smoking when you realize that at some point it turned from a constant struggle into not actually wanting a cigarette any more.

Sheridan, Hell and Texas

Friday, April 30, AD 2010

Earlier this week I referred in this thread to General Sheridan’s quip about Hell and Texas.  Here is the background story on Sheridan’s comparison of the Hot Place and the Hot State.

Phil Sheridan could be a nasty piece of work on duty.  A bantam Irish Catholic born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831, to Irish immigrants, Sheridan carved a career in the Army by sheer hard work and a ferocious will to win.  He had a hard streak of ruthlessness that Confederates, Indians and the many officers he sacked for incompetence could attest to.    His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.” after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war.

Off duty he was completely different.  He had the traditional Irish gift of gab and in social settings was charming and friendly.

After the Civil War he commanded an army of 50,000 troops in Texas to send a none-too-subtle hint to the French who had used the opportunity of the Civil War to conquer Mexico that it was time for them to leave.  The French did, with the Austrian Archduke Maximillian they had installed as Emperor of Mexico dying bravely before a Mexican firing squad.  During his stay in Texas Sheridan made his famous quip about Texas.  It was swiftly reported in the newspapers:

14 April 1866, Wisconsin State Register, pg. 2, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN, after his recent Mexican tour, states his opinion succinctly and forcibly, as follows: “If I owned h-ll and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place!”

“19 April 1866, The Independent, pg. 4:
But these states are not yet reduced to civil behavior. As an illustration, Gen. Sheridan sends word up from New Orleans, saying, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” This is the opinion of a department commander.”

“15 May 1866, Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 7?, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN does not have a very exalted opinion of Texas as a place of resident. Said he lately, “If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place.” In former times, before Texas was “re-annexed,” Texas and the other place were made to stand as opposites. Thus, when Col. Crockett was beaten in his Congressional district, he said to those who defeated him, “You may go to hell, and I’ll go to Tex!” which he did, and found a grave.”

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30 Responses to Sheridan, Hell and Texas

  • He had a hard streak of ruthlessness … His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.” after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war.

    In other words, Sheridan, like the rest of the “total warfare” marauders on Grant’s staff, was a war criminal. Maybe he’s “enjoying” the abode he so famously chose after all.

  • Well here we go on another refight of the Civil War. Couldn’t disagree with you more Jay. Burning the crops was a perfectly legitimate tactic of war. The Shenandoah Valley had served as the main supply source for Confederate forces in northern Virginia since the beginning of the War. Burning the crops vastly increased Lee’s supply woes and hastened the end of the War. As for the ultimate fate of Sheridan, if he went to Hell I am certain that there were quite a few Southern Fireeaters there to greet him for the part they played in starting a war in defense of slavery that the South was bound to lose.

  • I will be away from my computer at a Rotary District Conference until late on Saturday in the event that this thread explodes into the Second Civil War. When I return I will take up the cudgels for the Union Forever. 🙂

  • Don’t care to re-fight the war. Just pointing out that taking warfare to the civilian population – and I would assume the farmers in the Shenandoah Valley qualify as civilian population – violates Catholic teaching.

  • I was not born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. Before I lived her, I knew it would be hot, and plagued by mosquitoes. But between the heat, the mosquitoes and the hurricanes, I made a living out of it – just like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and others before me.

    I will admit, like any Texan, that it’s hot down here. It’s the plain and simple truth. But any Yankee who presumes to compare Texas with hell is full of it. That’s my humble opinion, sir.

  • I’ve been critical of some of the destrection wrought by Sherman, but I’m not informed enough to criticize Sheridan. Based on the above exchange I would have to agree with Don about the destruction of crops. That tactic is as old as time, was just as critical in seige warfare as was breeching a wall, and was widespread in Christendom. I am unaware of any condemnations of the practice by the Church.

    On the other hand, Sherman’s men indescriminately and deliberately burning civilian homes is another story.

  • During the War, the U.S. developed what was called the “Lieber Code” to govern what was, and was not, acceptable military behavior.



    While harsher in many respects than we now allow, it did ban torture and “wanton” destruction of property. Significantly, it permits destruction of property if “commanded by the authorized officer.” Article 44. And despite the noble words of Article 56, the Union’s treatment of its Confederate prisoners was as bad as anything at Andersonville. Worse, really–the Union had the material means to provide better for its prisoners.

    Not so by the way, Lieber thought of himself as a compiler/harmonizer, not an innovator. Thus, his Code is a kind of declaration of the law of war as it had developed up until his time.

    Be that as it may, the actions of Sherman and Sheridan rendered the wounds of the nation that much slower to heal.

  • With 27 years in the Army, and service in 2 combat zones, I don’t claim to be a hard-core combat vet, but I’ve seen enough to provide an informed perspective. Spare the enemy’s civilian support at the expense of your own soldier’s life in combat. Spare one in exchange of the other. On which side of the equation can you tolerate more death? Sherman is quoted as saying “war is hell” and a more accurate description would be hard to come by. A commander has to make incredibly difficult decisions. As an officer, I had to figure out how to kill the enemy and spare enough of my own soldiers in a way that would still allow me to reach heaven. There were excesses in Sheridan’s campaigns and Sherman’s march to the sea, to be sure. When my time comes, I’ll find out how God judged them.

    And, since I live in Texas, I can say I like what Crockett said. To paraphrase… if you don’t like Texas, you can go to the other place… I like it here just fine!

  • From the Civil War Preservation Trust website:

    … [Grant] sent Philip Sheridan on a mission to make the Shenandoah Valley a “barren waste”.

    In September, Sheridan defeated Jubal Early’s smaller force at Third Winchester, and again at Fisher’s Hill. Then he began “The Burning” – destroying barns, mills, railroads, factories – destroying resources for which the Confederacy had a dire need. He made over 400 square miles of the Valley uninhabitable. “The Burning” foreshadowed William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March to the Sea”: another campaign to deny resources to the Confederacy as well as bring the war home to its civilians.


    In an effort to force the Plains people onto reservations, Sheridan used the same tactics he used in the Shenandoah Valley: he attacked several tribes in their winter quarters, and he promoted the widespread slaughter of American bison, their primary source of food.

    (emphasis added)


  • For a sin to condemn a man to hell, he has to know it’s a sin and embrace it anyway.

    When I learn from reliable historical sources that Sheridan, prior to burning crops, queried the Vatican website or opened his copy of the Catechism, found teachings there not to his liking, and ignored them, I will then assume that he willfully committed mortal sin in the burning.


    My point is not merely that earlier generations found it more difficult, for purely technological reasons, to reliably know Church teaching on difficult topics when they arose.

    It is also that earlier eras have tended towards sins other than those towards which we tend. For of course one possible rejoinder to my wise-acre remark above would be, “But it’s obvious that burning crops would be sinful!” To you, maybe. But not to every Christian who ever lived in every era.

    If earlier eras were often without mercy, then our era is often without chastity and courage and industry. We look at them and wonder how they could have sunk to the level of burning crops. They look at us and wonder how we could have sunk to the level of producing and maintaining a trillion-dollar pornography industry to help us fill the hours when we aren’t watching American Idol.

    Anyhow, I hope Sheridan is in heaven after a fitting, but not interminable, purgation. And I think that hope is not improbable.

  • I certainly don’t hope or condemn Sheridan to hell. Not my place, so to speak. My comment was a tongue-in-cheek play on Sheridan’s own desire to live in hell rather than in my home state.

    As to the rest of your comment, taking warfare to the populace was controversial even in Sheridan’s time, and, as the link I provided indicates, he did far more to take the war to the populace than merely burn some crops.

    Especially in the example of what he did with regard to the plains Indians. You’d think an Irishman might have qualms about taking an action that forces the starvation of whole peoples.

  • Don’t mess with Texas.

    Here is a quote of General Sherman that provides timeless truth.

    “If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.”

    Point of information, Mr. Anderson: At any moment, the Confederacy and the Plains Indian could have enjoyed peace and freedom. About 80% of the (thousands of) Indian warriors that massacred Custer and his battalion of the Seventh Cavalry had jumped their reservations (eating guvmint beef) for one last spree.

    Lo, the noble savage! Each Plains tribe had a “calling card” they left on the bodies of their victims. The Sioux would cut the (Marine?) corpses’ throats. Another tribe would cut stripes in the victims’ thighs. The Army told Custer’s widow his body hadn’t been defiled – white lie. And, if they captured an enemy, slow torture to death was de rigeur. The male Plains Indian was a warrior and hunter. It was all he did. He was the finest light cavalryman the world had seen since the Mongols and just about as gentle.

    The quicker the generals destroyed the Confederacy’s/Plains Indians’ means of waging war, the fewer combatants would die.

  • My favorite Sheridan quote is:

    “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”


    It is certainly nice to know that the good general’s genocidal tendencies were not restricted to Southern Rebels.

    Defending such actions by stating that they shortened fighting after starting such fighting after initiating aggression and invasion . . . well, let’s just start excusing Hitler and Stalin and Mao, and their ilk. By engaging in ruthless conduct they were just attempting to break the spirit of their enemies and thus bring resistance and additional deaths to a quick end. Like Sheridan, I doubt if any of these men had access to the Vatican web site or had a through understanding of Church teachings so we need to likewise excuse their ruthlessness since it was merely a product of their respective eras.

  • Of course Sheridan was not Stalin, Mao or Hitler and did not engage in the mass slaughter of civilians. Sheridan never said “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That is a myth. If he had said it, the comment would have come as a vast surprise to his good friend General Ely Parker, a Seneca.

  • In the 1640’s, Oliver Cromwell treated Ireland in the same brutal way that Sheridan would treat his enemies. If Sheridan had some Irish blood in him, he ought to know better.

  • Unlike Cromwell Sheridan did not engage in the mass execution of civilians, especially Catholic priests, nor did he exile the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley to West Virginia and resettle the land with loyal Unionists. Sheridan was 100% Irish, his parents both being immigrants from the land of Saints and Scholars.

  • The end does not justify the means. Cromwell thought his political/military goals were more important than human life. He did not care too much about the deaths he caused, because they were of a different religion, race or nationality than his own. In this regard, Cromwell and Sheridan are not too far apart from each other.

  • They are miles apart Centinel, as Cromwell’s actions at Wexford and Drogheda amply demonstrate and his policy of Hell or Connaught in expelling the native Irish to the west of Ireland, and if you don’t know that you truly don’t know either Old Ironsides of Little Phil.

  • Cromwell’s actions alone were a signal of the atrocities that were going to be committed in the French Revolution.

    He was ruthless, heartless, and amoral.

    Comparing him to Sheridan is character assassination of the worst order.

  • Sheridan burned the Shenandoah Valley to the ground and promoted the massacre of buffalo to starve the Indians. He caused the deaths of many people. He thought he was doing the right thing. His actions are unjustifiable.

  • Wrong again Centinel. Sheridan burned the crops of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 in order to starve Lee’s army. He gave his troops specific instructions that the farm families were to be left sufficient food for personal use to get them through until the next harvest. Personal dwellings were not to be touched.

    In regard to the Indians, Sheridan applied the buffalo slaughter strategy to tribes that were at war with the US in order to have them go to reservations where they could have food. It worked very well at bringing the wars to a rapid close. The idea of course that a policy could have been adopted at the time that would have left the plains Indians free to roam the plains following Buffalo herds may appeal to people sitting at their computers in th 21rst century, but in the Nineteenth Century in the 1860s and 1870s that simply was not going to occur.

  • My pro-life values compel compel me to condemn warfare as Sheridan waged it. Sometimes a soldier must kill people, but the use of force must be:

    1. no more than necessary to achieve legitimate goals, and
    2. proportional to the evil that is being remedied or avoided.

    Once again, the end does not justify the means. Human life does not become expendable, merely because of one’s political/military goals. If one’s political/military goals conflict with innocent human life, one must give way to the other.

    I invite you to take a look at the map and see how big the Shenandoah Valley is. If Sheridan indeed left enough food for the farmers, that contradicts his boast of turning the Valley into a barren wasteland that a crow flying from one end to the other would need to bring its own provisions. That’s roughly 180 miles.

    Most of the time, the only justifiable wars are wars of self-defense and defense of others. Some of the Indian Wars may have been for self-defense, but the killing of civilians is seldom if ever justifiable.

  • “Once again, the end does not justify the means.”

    Usually said by someone who supports neither the means nor the end. I believe that the means taken by Sheridan in both the Civil War and the Indian wars were completely justifiable. I have no difficulty at all in distinguishing between abortion and denying sustenance to enemy forces.

  • Of course Sheridan was not Stalin, Mao or Hitler and did not engage in the mass slaughter of civilians. Sheridan never said “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That is a myth. If he had said it, the comment would have come as a vast surprise to his good friend General Ely Parker, a Seneca

    Depends on what you consider a “mass slaughter” of civilians. It may not have been a mass slaughter to you but to those on the receiving end of the slaughter the number of others (Indians and Southerners) that died with them means very little.

    Secondly, you can deny what he said all you like but Sheridan did state that the only good Indians he knew were dead ones. He may have not used those exact words attributed to him but the ones he did use had the same meaning. Another example is Charlie Wilson and the quote “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA>” He never said that exact phrase but he said “[w]hat is good for the USA is good for General Motors and vise versa”, and this for all intents and purposes is the meaning of the quote attributed to him.

    Finally, I can’t believe you used the “some of his best friends were Indians” defense.

  • Compared to the attrocites the “Saxon” committed against Irish Catholics (from say 1560 to 1922), Sheridan and all the Indian fighters were gentler than “Mother Teresa.”

    The source quote, by an unnamed US Cavalry officer, was in general response to Eastern papers’ “lo the noble savage” tripe. He said, “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.”

    The Saxon was far gentler to the Irish Catholic than the Democratic party is to 47,000,000 unborn babies they exterminate.

    Vilifying General Sheridan won’t get you into Heaven if you vote Democratic.

  • “Finally, I can’t believe you used the ‘some of his best friends were Indians’ defense.”

    *I* can’t believe anyone tried to compare Sheridan to Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Supporters of the lost cause should avoid the same victim-speak, hyperbole and morally-incoherent rhetoric deployed at public university ethnic studies departments. Sheridan’s conduct can be condemned on its own terms without resort to bankrupt analogies. Using such trivializes 20th century butchery and obscures what actually happened.

  • “Finally, I can’t believe you used the “some of his best friends were Indians” defense.”

    The mythic statement applied to Sheridan to the effect that the only good indian was a dead indian is refuted by Sheridan’s friendship with Parker, who, I might add, was Commissioner for Indian Affairs from 1869-1871 while Sheridan was in command in the West.

    Before commenting on historical figures and controversies it does help to have some basic knowledge about the individuals involved in them.

  • Nice try, fellas. The name of this blog is The American Catholic, but your position is not representative of the entire American Catholic population. I can count one regular and one guest contributor who have spoken up on this thread and they’re both pro-Sheridan.

  • Zounds, now he tells us! I always assumed that every position we take, even when contributors disagree vehemently with each other, was representative of all Catholics in the US. Thanks for straightening that out Centinel!

  • For that matter, the online calendar on this blog makes Monday look like the first day of the week. You Catholics should know better.

Top 15 Misconceptions About Catholics

Tuesday, April 20, AD 2010

Karen L. Anderson of Online Christian Colleges wrote a timely piece on the many myths, misconceptions, and outlandish lies told about Catholics:

With nearly one quarter of the U.S. population Catholic, they make up a huge part of society and the largest Christian denomination. Yet with so many, how is it they are so misunderstood and characterized by films, television shows, etc.?

Failing to do the proper research explains a great deal of it. With a simple search on the internet, we were able to find many interesting answers to the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics. They are both from official sources, reporters, academics, and more.

1. Priests Are More Likely to be Pedophiles : The most dangerous of all myths concerning Catholics, this can lead to many negative and unfair consequences. Recently in a book entitled Pedophiles and Priests, an extensive study – and the only one of it kind – took a look at the pedophile statistics of over 2,200 priests. It found that only 0.3% of all Catholic clergy are involved in any pedophilia matter, guilty or not. This number is actually very low and according to Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, who reports that children are more likely to be victims of pedophile activity at school with nearly 14% of students estimated to be molested by a member of the school staff.

2. Everything in “The Da Vinci Code” is True : Even author Dan Brown himself doesn’t agree to this. In this free film from Hulu, Mr. Brown admits to writing his novel as a step in his own spiritual journey. As he confesses to being swayed by his extensive research, the experts behind the research weigh in with facts. Simon Cox is the author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and tells more about his work in this documentary. If you don’t have 90 minutes to view it, you can get the real story behind Opus Dei, the villain organization in the novel, from ABC news.

3. Women Are Oppressed in the Catholic Church : Although women are still not eligible to become priests as explained by Pope John Paul II, they were still acknowledged as valued members of the church as far back as 1947. In a Papal Directive from then Pope Pius XII, he expressed his admiration of women “to take part in the battle: you have not sought to do so, but courageously you accept your new duties; not as resigned victims nor merely in a defensive spirit.” Also, in 2004 then Pope John Paul II historically appointed two women theologians to the International Theological Commission and named another as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

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12 Responses to Top 15 Misconceptions About Catholics

  • The dificulty in the myths in the article are not the fact that they are misconceptions of the Roman Catholic Church. The turly sad part is that many so called members of our Church add to these misconception by 2 basic means. They do not correct these myths when asked by friends or others who are inquisitive either from lack of knowlegde or feeling this is not their right to do so and the second most problem and perhaps the worse is that many so called “catholics” beleve the crticisms are correct.

  • I would also say 9, 12 and 15 are odd; never heard them before….

  • #1: The book looks only at data since 1982. As we’ve seen in another recent TAC post, we have far more incidents prior to 1982. The John Jay study, which goes farther back, concludes that a shocking 4% of priests were reported to have sexually abused children. The second link you posted says that 1-5% of teachers sexually abuse or harass children. Harassment is more common than sexual abuse so the prevalence among teachers is probably less than 2.5%. But then you have to take out the women teachers who are must less likely to sexually abuse students. It also might to useful to compare the prevalence of sexual abuse of boys only. Priests are more likely to abuse boys and teachers are more likely to abuse girls. Bottom line is that you need more data but it’s certain that among pedophiles, priests are outliers. Even if abuse isn’t any more prevalent, why boys instead of girls? I think it’s entirely possible that the priesthood attracts sexual deviants.

    #3: And some black slaves were allowed to sleep in the master’s house. Crumbs do not disprove oppression. If we’re going to completely honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that the Church denies women opportunities that are open to men. We don’t have to get all defensive over that fact. Christ denied women opportunities that he gave to men.

    #5: The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, not Jesus.

    #8: I’m unclear of what you’re saying here. Catholics were once required to abstain from meat on ALL Fridays. Catholics must still abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent but in the US, bishops allow Catholics to give up something else on Fridays outside of Lent.

  • RR,

    #3. She never claimed nor said that.

    #5. I corrected her post, thanks!

  • You can always count on restrained radical to bash the Church for no apparent reason.

  • Is the reason not apparent? I’m a closet Episcopalian. Which reminds me… there’s an interesting piece in the New Yorker on the debate over women bishops in the Church of England. Full article requires a subscription. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_kramer

  • I think that a lot of these misconceptions come from different places. The Dan Brown stuff is probably more common among evangelicals and conspiracy-types, two crowds that probably don’t have much in common. Ditto for the claim of oppressing women, which would come from feminist atheists and faithful Protestants.

    The supposed conflict between faith and reason in #4 is the one that irritates me the most. It’s so patently wrong! I attended a lecture on data visualization (of all things) last week, and the instructor went off on a tangent about the persecution of Galileo. For whatever reason, we get tarred by the same brush as evangelicals about science, then tarred by evangelicals about Mary. Oh well. As Chesterton said, if you’re being accused by everyone of every possible error, you may be perfectly correct.

  • Yes Pinky, Chesteron really had a unigue use of words and as far as 9 is concerned ,they probably never heard of Hilaire Belloc..”wherever the Catholic sun doth shine there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I always found it so Benedicamus Domino “

  • Number 9 was news to me. Wine is even part of our sacramental life, unlike those denominations that use grape juice. I’ve never heard a stereotype about a sober Irishman, a teetotaling Italian, or a Mexican refusing beer, so I don’t know where the myth of Catholic avoidance of alcohol comes from.

  • Too often Catholics get lumped together with puritan Protestant Creationists. And too often it’s Catholics who do it.

    Catholics can drink, smoke, believe in evolution, dinosaurs, the big bang, aliens, believe that you can be born gay, reject intelligent design, and celebrate Halloween.

    Here’s a couple others:

    Catholics are anti-sex or Catholics believe sex is purely for pro-creation.

    Catholics believe being gay is a sin.

  • Catholics believe engaging in homosexual sex is a sin. Whether people are in their “being” gay, that is that it is genetically determined, is far from scientifically proven. But if so, it would be like alcoholism. There would be a genetic predispostion to sin which in itself would not be sinful but which, through grace, could be overcome.