Saturday, January 20, 2007

Letters to a teenage skeptic, #1

#1 of a multi-part of a series of related blogs.  See also Letters to a teenage skeptic, #2#3#4, and #5.

When we were young children, we placed much trust in our parents. Young children tend to believe what their parents tell them is true. We seem to have an almost innate influence within ourselves which calls upon us to trust our parents, as if it were a built-in survival mechanism, as if something inside is telling us that whether we comprehend the reasons or not, we should trust that our parents love us and have our best interests in mind, and so we should believe them.

So, when mom says don't play in the busy boulevard, we may not fully understand why, but there's something inside us that tells us that we should probably do what mom asks, because she loves us and what she says is for our own good.

Consequently, as young children, without even putting hardly any thought to the contrary, we tend to respect what our parents tell us because they are speaking as one who has lived and experienced many more things than we have experienced as young children. Their capacity to reason is greater, their experiences our more plentiful, and they have been given a greater variety of testimony from others about what constitutes the truth. While young children may not give this trust to their parents based upon any sort of deliberate reasoning, it does indeed seem reasonable, generally speaking, for young children to believe their parents.

However, when children grow older, they seem to grow more and more skeptical of the veracity of the things their parents teach them. Why is that? I suspect it is because they start to gain more experience, they grow in their own capacity to reason, and they too begin to draw from a wider variety of the testimony from others, all of which may conflict with what their parents have taught them. With all the conflicting evidence, it may become difficult to discern the truth.

I am a father to teenagers, and like other fathers before me, I am having to now deal with teenage skepticism. The following comes from letters and discussions between my son and I about God. I've edited some parts and re-written others for clarity. My hope is that these discussions may help others who may be dealing with teenage skepticism too.

My Beloved Son,

I've been thinking and praying about how to respond to your statements made Sunday Morning, regarding doubts about God's existence and the value of religion. And after racking my brain, I thought it best to respond in writing. I have chosen to respond in writing for three reasons:

1) I put more thought into written responses. This way I'm less likely to blurt out something stupid.

2) God is the most important thing to me in my life. Discussions about God, his revealed will for us, and our duty toward Him can tend to be emotional, and the beauty of written responses is that I can use the backspace button if I think what I say lacks charity in any way.

3) I know that you are not the only skeptical teenager that ever walked the planet. Consequently, I thought that I would eventually place much of what we discuss, or at least portions of it, in my blog, as a presentation for others who may have skeptical teenagers of their own.

I ask that you write back to me, even if all that you say is "I concur." I hope to keep my letters to you brief, but as your Mom knows, brevity is not my best quality when it comes to theology. ;) If you don't understand what I write, or you don't concur, I'd like you to tell me, so that we may discuss it further. Perhaps I can explain it in a different way that will make more sense.
My hope is that you come to understand why I believe in the Creed as taught by the Holy Catholic Church. Keep in mind, understanding is not the same as agreement. In the final analysis, I don't believe I have the power to make anybody else believe as I do. My goal is less lofty than that. I merely hope you come to doubt your doubts, so that you continue to prayerfully seek to know and understand God's will, and strive to obey it.

I also want you to know that you are still my beloved Son, no matter what.

Now on to the discussion....

You said to your Mom on Sunday, "I don't believe in God...religion is a bunch of crap." I think some ground rules are in order...

The most important things to me are God, family, & country... in that specific order. I believe I have a serious obligation to all three, but you should know that my obligations to God are more important to me than anything else. Disrespect for my religion, my family or my country will be understood by me as a lack of charity. You certainly don't have to agree with me, but when you disagree, I ask that you respectfully disagree. I will strive to do the same.

You already apologized to me and your mother for your remarks made Sunday, and I accept your apology. However, throughout our discussion, let's always keep in mind what St. Thomas Aquinas taught many centuries ago..."Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth, let me not forget the truth about love."

You said to me later on Sunday that you don't necessarily believe God does not exist, but instead you are not sure of God's existence. You also stated that you didn't think it was that important. I will strive to address these doubts. But before doing so, I want to tell you about me and the doubts I have had in my life with regard to religion. Next, I need to define some terms and make some introductory remarks about logical reasoning and epistemology. After which, we will get to the business of discussing the existence of God and the truth taught by the Catholic Church.

About me and my journey of faith...

When I was your age, I stopped going to Mass. I belonged to a parish that seemed to be withering away. It seemed to me that Church was where old people went to pray before they died. When I was a teenager, my parish didn't have the wonderful youth ministries that our current parish has. I never doubted the existence of God, nor did I ever doubt that Jesus was the Divine Son of God. However, I seriously doubted that the Catholic Church was the authoritative teaching voice of God on earth. I also had doubts as to what the Bible had to say on the matter.
During college, I wasn't what I would call "morally depraved," but I wasn't very good either. I was kind of selfish. I neglected to pray. I didn't have an active relationship with God, and it showed in the bad decisions I was making. Nonetheless, at Gonzaga University, it was mandatory to take philosophy and theology. It was there that I learned about all sorts of conflicting theologies and philosophies, both Catholic and non-Catholic. I became very interested in learning more, even though I still did not practice any religion or pray to God.

The reason I'm telling you this is so you understand that doubt is not uncommon. It would be decades later before I returned to the Catholic Church and became serious about my duty to God. In those decades, I never stopped seeking to better understand more about God and what he had in store for me. I've been seriously studying theology since I was 17 years old. I've read works by atheist authors. I studied all the major world religions. I can assure you that I'm not Catholic by accident. I've studied all the major explanations about God and truth, and found all of them to be unconvincing, excepting one...Catholicism.


The biggest mistake I made in my journey of faith is that I neglected prayer. Even if you have doubts, I recommend you never stop praying. Pray when you get up in the morning. Pray during the day. Pray before going to bed at night. You don't have to pray long, nor do you have to pray a specific prayer. Simply take a moment to praise God for what you have been given, tell Him your worries, ask God for help, and listen to what He tells you in your conscience. If there is no God, you will have lost nothing. If there is a God, you will have gained so much. My understanding was hindered by a lack of prayer. Once I resolved to pray everyday, I was able to better understand what had never been very clear to me before.

That's enough for now. Let me know your thoughts. Perhaps you can tell me what might have led you to doubt the existence of God. Next letter I will described some terms and discuss epistemology.

I love you and God bless,


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How Big is Your Book of Daniel?

Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants all believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant written Word of God. Yet, Protestants have a 66-book Bible, Catholics have a 73-book Bible and Orthodox have even more than 73 books in their Bible.Catholics and Orthodox alike have seven OT books not found in most Protestant Bibles (1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, Tobit, and Judith), as well as more chapters and verses in the Books of Daniel and Esther. These books were included in the first canon of Sacred Scripture of AD 382, the very same Christian canon which first declared the NT and other OT books canonical Scriptures.

I have described this in detail here… How the Bible came to be--a primer -

By what authority do Protestants abbreviate the Holy Bible which was held sacred by the Christian churches which preceded the advent of Protestantism?

After discussing the canonicity of Sacred Scripture with many Protestants, and reading the responses of many Protestant authors, I’m unconvinced with the generality of their response to this question.

For instance, I often hear, “we simply accept the scholarship of early Church Fathers such as Origen and Jerome.” Yet, they are reluctant to go any further than this general response, as this would actually involve discussing the writings of Jerome and Origen. When one actually studies the writings of the early Fathers, including Origen and Jerome, it becomes clear that this Protestant claim is simply untrue.

Protestant author William Webster writes,

“[The Protestant OT] corresponds to the Jewish canon which did not accept the books of the Apocrypha as being canonical. Jerome, who spent many years in Palestine and who had Jewish teachers, rejected the Apocrypha because those books were not recognized as canonical by the Jews…. In addition, Origen…reject[ed] the Apocryphal books as being canonical.”

[William Webster, The Canon, URL:, accessed on 17 Jan 2007]

To illustrate the inaccuracy of this claim, I will narrow the canonical question to something very specific and verifiable, the Book of Daniel. One can see from researching the historical evidence of just this one text that the Protestant claims don’t stand up to scholastic rigor.

First of all, the Jews of the first century did not agree as to which books of the Hebrew Scripture were inspired Sacred Scripture. For example, the Sadducees rejected all books accepting the Torah (as did the Samaritans). Yet, the Pharisees accepted the Torah, along with many other sacred books, such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Esther. However, according to the earliest (yet fragmentary) evidence of the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls, the Jewish sect called the Essenes accepted as Sacred Scripture an even greater variety of texts, while rejecting others such as the Book of Esther.

Moreover, it is clear from the Qumran evidence (which also included fragments from the Book of Tobit and the Book of Sirach), that Jews of the 1st century accepted different Hebrew recensions of the same Sacred books. For example, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah discovered at Qumran. There was also evidence that portions of the larger recension of the Book of Daniel were discovered among these Qumran findings. [cf. Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), pg. 482-501].

Furthermore, the translations of the 2nd century Hebrew scholars such as Symmachus and Theodotion included the larger recension of the Book of Daniel. Thus, with regard to Daniel, it is clear that there was more than one recension accepted among first and second century Jews.

According to the Jewish authors of the The Jewish Encyclopedia (1909), the Jewish dispute over which books were considered canonical “still continued in the second century of the common era.” (“Bible Canon,” The Jewish Encyclopedia,
URL: , accessed on 17 Jan 2007). Still to this day, Ethiopian Jews accept a larger version of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Secondly, all of the ancient Christians churches of the 2nd century AD accepted the larger recension of Daniel. ALL of them. Consequently, based upon the judgment of the most ancient Christian testimony, the Catholic Church and Eastern/Oriental Orthodox churches continue to accept the longer recension of the Book of Daniel, which was based upon a Hebrew recension extant since the advent of Christ.

Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly states:

“It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the [ancient Christian] Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the [Protestant Old Testament].” (Early Christian Doctrines, 53-54).

It appears that EVERY ancient Christian manuscript of Sacred Scripture in other than fragmentary form prior to the advent of Protestantism testifies to the larger recension of Daniel.

According to the Protestant commentary within the New Oxford Annotated Bible,

“… the ancient Greek version of the Book of Daniel is considerably longer than the surviving Hebrew text. ... All Greek witnesses place the Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Jews in Dan ch. 3....The Greek translation made by [2nd cent. Hebrew scholar] Theodotion ... includes all the outstanding passages in the Greek Daniel as integral parts of the book ... The Old Latin, Coptic, and Arabic versions follow Theodotion…. Jerome's Latin Vulgate followed Theodotion.”

When Protestant authors claim that “we simply follow Origen and Jerome” then why don’t they accept Jerome’s larger recension of the Book of Daniel?

Jerome refutes the contrary accusation that he rejected the larger version of Daniel in his refutation against Rufinius (ca. AD 405):

"What sin have I committed if I follow the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating [in my preface to the book of Daniel] the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susannah [Dan. 13], the Song of the Three Children [Dan. 3:29–68, RSV-CE], and the story of Bel and the Dragon [Dan. 14], which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they are wont to make against us. If I did not reply to their views in my preface, in the interest of brevity, lest it seem that I was composing not a preface, but a book, I believe I added promptly the remark, for I said, ‘This is not the time to discuss such matters’" (Against Rufinius 11:33 [A.D. 401]).

It is clear that Jerome, being well aware of what the ancient Christian churches of his day accepted, prudently following the judgment of the churches, accepted the larger version of the Book of Daniel. Why don’t Protestants prudently accept the judgment of the Christian churches as Jerome did?

According to Protestant author Philip Schaff’s text, Origen is quoted by Eusebius (4th century historian) as including Baruch and Maccabees as "canonical books." [cf. Philip Schaff’s NPNF2, I:272, “Origen, Canon of the Hebrews, Fragment in Eusebius’ Church History, 6:25 [AD 244]).

According to the same Protestant source, Origen likewise describes the respect that he holds for the Greek Septuagint [i.e., "the Seventy"], which according to other Protestant sources included the larger recension of Daniel:

"In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, 'Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.' Nor do I say this because I shun the labour of investigating the Jewish Scriptures, and comparing them with ours, and noticing their various readings. This, if it be not arrogant to say it, I have already to a great extent done to the best of my ability, labouring hard to get at the meaning in all the editions and various readings; while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy , lest I might to be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting-point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community." (Origen, To Africanus, 5 (ante A.D. 254), in Philip Schaff's ANF, IV:387)

Notice that Origen explicitly distinguishes between the "Jewish Scriptures" and "ours," making it clear that he believes the Jews have "variant readings" when compared to "ours." He paid particular attention to the Septuagint, as this was the version accepted by the Churches.

Origen, in defending against Africanus' charge that some portions of Origen's version of Scripture are forgeries, stated: “I used the Scripture which contains the prophecy of Daniel when yet a young man in the affair of Susanna ...” (ibid).

Note that Origen here is specifically defending the portion of Daniel he considers "Scripture” which Protestants reject. Origen goes on to defend these portions of the ancient recension of the Book of Daniel against Africanus' charge of forgery by asserting the History of Susanna as "found in every Church of Christ" (ibid). In the same work, Origen refers to those Scripture versions having the History of Susanna (Dan ch 13), Bel and the Dragon (Dan ch. 14), and the Song of the Three Children (Dan 3), as "our version" (ibid.) of Scripture.Why aren't they part of the Protestant version of Scripture? They were part of Origen's version. They were part of Jerome's version. They were "found in every Church of Christ" since apostolic times according to our most ancient Christian testimony on the matter. By what authority do Protestants truncate the inspired Word of God?

After discerning the evidence of what “every Church of Christ” accepted, to include Jerome and Origen, it is difficult to take seriously the Protestant response, “we simply accept the scholarship of early Church Fathers such as Origen and Jerome,”

Why is this an important point? Well there are over 33,000+ different Christian denominations claiming to teach Christian truth according to Scripture. Yet, of those denominations, how many have erroneously truncated the Book of Daniel which they received, which were accepted by “every Church of Christ” since the advent of Christianity? If a Christian church cannot even correctly discern the contents of Scripture, then what confidence should we have that their interpretation of Scripture is trustworthy?

God bless,