The Amazon Synod and Myth of Pre-Christian Peace

(A previous version of this article appeared in Crisis.)

“These liberation theologians are promoting the idea that the Indians who still live in a primitive way are very happy, living in paradise,” said Macuxi tribal chief Jonas Marcolino Macuxí, referring to bishops at the Pan-Amazon Synod, a conference held in Rome in October of 2019. “But that’s not true.”

He’s right. The myth that pre-Christian tribes were peace-lovers was alive and well at the synod, as the assembly of bishops there discussed how best to evangelize the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, in addition to “let ourselves be evangelized by them” in the words of Pope Francis.

The pope wants the Catholic Church to listen to and learn from those peoples, who live in “harmony with oneself, with nature, with human beings and with the supreme being,” as quoted in the Instrumentum Laboris or working document of the synod.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) would be proud. He imagined people living in a state of nature untouched by Western civilization to be ensconced in an idyllic world of peace, kindness and benevolence. “Nothing could be more gentle than man in his primitive state,” he proclaimed.

That starkly contrasted with Rousseau’s intellectual arch-rival Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who held that life in a state of nature involved endless war and “continual fear of danger and violent death”, famously writing of primeval man’s existence being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Neither philosopher had ever observed man in a state of nature. Their ideas were speculative. Who turned out to be right?

We have had hints during the synod. At a press briefing a reporter brought up the subject of infanticide among certain Amazonian tribes. Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, S.J. expressed skepticism that it is carried out. But fellow press briefer Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, acknowledged the practice.

At a counter-synod held by critics of the event, tribal chief Marcolino Macuxí confirmed infanticide among some tribes. “Those things were ending; but now, with the idea that you have to go back to primitivism, they remain,” he told the National Catholic Register. By “primitivism” he means the idealization of the pre-modern way of life of the Amazon tribes; i.e. the “noble savage” myth. “We are not living in paradise. It’s a very hard life; people have insects all over their feet, bats in their homes.”

It sounds an awful lot like Thomas Hobbes was on to something.

Napoleon Chagnon lived five years with peoples of the Yanomamö tribe in the Amazon rainforest, which previously were practically untouched by Western civilization. He and other anthropologists in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who studied such hunter-gatherer societies exploded the myth that they were peace-loving peoples.

War, violence, and oppression of women reigned supreme among Amazonian tribespeople prior to Western contact, as was the case with most indigenous peoples worldwide – as detailed by such authors as Chagnon, Jared Diamond, Lawrence Keeley, and Sabine Kuegler.

While there no doubt were exceptions, war with neighboring villages or tribes was unceasing. Rarely could one live in peace and security. Raids, massacres, and the slaughtering of prisoners, women and children were commonplace.

The abduction of women from neighboring villages was a leading cause of wars, due in part to the effects of polygamy which resulted in many mateless men. Wife-beating was the norm for captured and non-captured women alike.

It was only thanks to Western influence and the spread of Christianity that inter- and intra-tribal aggression finally lessened. Sabine Kuegler, who spent 10 years of her childhood living with her Christian missionary family in Papua New Guinea during the 1980s, in Child of the Jungle tells a gripping account of how Christian values finally tamed the warring tribesmen.

Their pagan beliefs and practices often fostered violence. Shamanism is the predominant belief system of pre-Christian tribal societies, in which malevolent and benevolent spirits reign, and in which sicknesses and deaths are often thought to be caused by spells cast by enemies.

Retribution would be exacted upon those thought responsible for conjuring up the evil spirits. As Chagnon writes in Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, “The Yanomamö sometimes decide that death was caused by witchcraft – an enemy in a distant village sent the snake, and therefore this enemy is now a legitimate target for a revenge killing.”

Shamanism contradicts Christianity in myriad ways. It often involves multiples gods. It involves worship of created things as opposed to the Creator. It entails persons known as shamans who claim to visit supernatural realms, as well as summon souls of the dead.

Alarmingly, what appeared to be shamanistic practices were on full display at the synod during the infamous tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens, in which an indigenous woman – possibly a shaman – conducted rituals and offered prayers to what seemed to be a pagan deity. Even more alarming was that the pope was in attendance. But until we know more, let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was unaware of what was to unfold. After all, he abandoned his prepared remarks and prayed an Our Father instead.

The Instrumentum trumpets that “it is desirable to deepen existing Amazonian Indian theology”. We need to “take into account the original myths, traditions, symbols, knowledge, rites and celebrations….” in order to have a “Church with an indigenous and Amazonian face.”

Not explained is exactly how the belief systems are to be taken into account. The question of religious syncretism – the merging of beliefs – came up during a synod press conference. The Vatican reported that Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino said “to see what coincides with the Gospel”. Let us hope that means forcefully rejecting what does not coincide.

Another bishop candidly acknowledged violent practices. Wilmar Santin, bishop of Itaituba in Pará, Brazil, at another synod press briefing spoke extensively of infanticide and the former warlike practices of the Munduruku tribe.

Moreover the Instrumentum mentions “seeing with a critical conscience a series of behaviors and realities of the indigenous peoples that go against the Gospel,” but does not elaborate apart from brief mentions of family violence and subjugation of women.

Meanwhile, it is ironic that many within the Church push the romantic vision of primitive cultures. Such a way of life actually was Hobbesian. Real progress would come from spreading the true Gospel, free of any bundling with shamanism.

The Covington Catholic Boys Should Forgive the Washington Post

490 300x300 - The Covington Catholic Boys Should Forgive the Washington PostThe Catholic Church teaches about several sins that fall under the Eighth Commandment – thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Those since include rash judgement, calumny, and slander. They were on full display with the Covington Catholic incident, in which boys from Covington Catholic High School were falsely accused in the traditional media and on social media of racial harassment against a native American, following the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The boys were pilloried in the media and criticized even by their own bishop, based on a short video clip that did not reflect the full story. That was the sin of rash judgement. Slander and calumny against the boys also ran rampant. Upon examination of more video footage, it turns out that the native American instigated the incident by wading into the crowd of boys, and that they boys were innocent of any racial harassment.

Subsequent to that, the family of the principal Catholic boy in the story, Nick Sandmann, brought a $250 million defamation lawsuit against one of the parties who practiced rash judgement, the Washington Post.

First of all, their chance of success in winning the lawsuit is very low. Rarely do defamation lawsuits against newspaper publishers ever succeed.

But separate from that, it is easy to fall victim to the sin of rash judgement, and one hopes that the following does not constitute rash judgement:

Does it not appear that the Sandmann family is succumbing to the sin of unforgiveness?

The Sandmanns should publicly and prominently forgive the Washington Post for their rash judgement.Perhaps some facts are missing that would make this lawsuit “legitimate” in the eyes of God. But from the information at hand, the Sandmanns don’t seem to be abiding by the teachings of the Catholic Faith, even though presumably they are Catholic. The lawsuit embodies vengeance; an eye-for-an-eye. Jesus explicitly rejected that, and instead urged us to turn the other cheek.

As indicated in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, God is merciful and forgiving – but only if we are merciful and forgiving towards others. That parable is immediately preceded by the famous dialogue in which Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive another person. “As many as seven times?,” Peter asks. “No, Jesus replied. “Seventy times seven times.”

So to be in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Faith, it seems that rather than suing the Washington Post, the Sandmanns should publicly and prominently forgive the Washington Post for their rash judgement. That would convey to the world a powerful lesson about forgiveness.

Nick Sandmann in his interview with NBC said that his Catholic school does not tolerate racism. The school evidently teaches that racism is a grave sin, and rightly so. Does the school not teach that unforgiveness is a grave sin as well?

But again, in order to not fall victim to the sin of rash judgement, we’ll hold off on judging until all of the facts are in.



America Dystopia

America dystopia for pinterest 231x300 - America DystopiaImagine a relatively clean, orderly and educated society where people go about their lives working, studying, and playing, and who on the whole are generally polite to each other. But the society has a dark secret: some 2,500 murders are carried out each and every day. These aren’t gangland-style murders on the street involving guns and knives. These are systematic murders of children, taking place in mild-mannered neighborhoods, in what are called “clinics” staffed by doctors and nurses wearing green gowns and rubber gloves.

Because they take place in these nondescript “clinics” involving doctors and nurses, and because they have been legalized, people don’t think much of those murders. They’re shocked of course by the illegal murders of adults and young people on the streets, but the murders of tiny children that take place in the “clinics” don’t bother them much. It is a medical setting, after all.

The vast majority of the tiny children who are murdered were healthy. Some of them had physical defects, and therefore were eliminated. After all, the authorities don’t want lots of unhealthy babies introduced and thus negatively impact the fairly clean, orderly and prosperous society.

This society resembles the dystopian novel and movie The Giver, in which undesired or defective infants are legally and systematically put to death in clean, antiseptic medical procedure rooms by medical professionals. In The Giver a syringe is gently placed into the baby’s head, the baby dies, and the body is placed into a chute. (Disturbing scene from the movie here.) No one protests or thinks much of it – after all, everything takes place in a medical facility. And the authorities don’t want to do anything that could negatively impact the clean and orderly society depicted in The Giver.

This society resembles the dystopian novel and movie The Giver, in which undesired or defective infants are legally and systematically put to death by medical professionals.

Meanwhile, in the aforementioned society, the babies are put to death in a different manner. They don’t involve gentle syringes to the head. Instead, they are bloody and violent deaths by dismemberment. The doctor grabs the baby’s leg and tears it off, then the baby’s arm and tears it off, then its other leg and tears it off, and so on. To see a disturbing animation of this procedure, click here.

For adults, death by dismemberment would be the cruelest and most excruciating form of death. That’s why it’s outlawed for the rest of society. But for some reason, it isn’t outlawed for the babies.

In addition to death by dismemberment, the babies are often put to death through the use of chemical agents, causing the baby to be chemically burned alive from the inside out, taking more than an hour to die. For the rest of society, death by chemical agents is one of the most excruciating forms of death. That’s why chemical warfare was outlawed in World War II. But for some reason, it isn’t outlawed for the babies.

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Scene from The Giver. (Walden Media, 2014)

So this society is actually much more dystopian than the dystopian society depicted in The Giver. At least in the latter, the babies died presumably almost painless deaths. Not so in the society of which we speak. They die the cruelest and most barbaric deaths. But they all take place in “clinics”, out of sight to the rest of society.

In this society roughly 20,000 murders take place on the streets each year, often via guns. People are up in arms about those murders, especially when the murders take the form of massacres. But the number of those types of murders pale in comparison to the number of murders that take place in the dystopian “clinics” using forceps or saline solutions as weapons: roughly 900,000 of them per year. That’s 2,500 per day. It’s the leading cause of death – even more than heart disease.

In this society, most of the legalized murders of the babies take place while they’re still in the mother’s womb. Now there’s a push to legalize the murder of babies up to the point of delivery, and even after delivery – i.e. straight-up infanticide, as takes place in The Giver. Several states in this society already permit the murder up to the point of delivery.

The governor of one of the states of this society even discussed permitting murder after delivery. A professor at one of this society’s prestigious universities, who in true dystopian form describes himself as a bioethicist, champions the killing of born babies up to a month old. So do researchers who published a paper on this subject in a prestigious academic journal. And numerous college students support the killing of born babies. This society is moving closer and closer toward the systematic slaughter depicted in The Giver – but it all would take place in “clinics”, which seem so kind and gentle.

Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, The Giver … they all depict dystopian societies. With the systematic but out-of-sight killing of thousands of babies going on every day in the nondescript “clinics” probably not far from where you live, America has become a real-life dystopian society – playing out right before your very eyes.

Euthanasia: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

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(Illustrations credit:

What’s wrong with euthanasia? A lot.

The rise of euthanasia – a.k.a. physician-assisted suicide, mercy killing, or so-called “death with dignity” – is a reflection of our increasingly secular society. It used to be that the taking of a life – whether it be one’s own or someone else’s, even if assisted by a doctor – was considered to be a violation of the Fifth Commandment that Thou Shalt Not Kill. People took the Ten Commandments seriously, especially the fifth one. This not only was because of moral reasons but also because violating it could result in the loss of Heaven.

But as people have turn away from religion, they have turned away from the Ten Commandments. Apparently they don’t think the Ten Commandments are valid because they don’t believe the Bible is inspired by God – and often they don’t even believe in God. So they think ending their life or ending someone else’s life in order to relieve suffering is okay, provided the person consents to being put to death. Most atheists surely would consider that to be the case, and even many believers in God would go along with that, because they think God would rather have a person die than suffer, especially in old age.

But not so fast. First, atheists may be surprised to learn that there is a God. Evidence for the existence of God abounds. Second, the Ten Commandments are still quite valid; there is much evidence that the Bible is indeed inspired by God. So the Fifth Commandment holds. But what does “Thou Shalt Not Kill” mean? Does it mean we can’t kill a mosquito when it lands on our arm? Someone accustomed to private interpretation of scripture may think so. But God does not want us to interpret scripture ourselves. A hundred different people would have a hundred different interpretations of a given passage. That’s why God gave us a supreme teaching authority that we can look to in order to get the proper interpretation of the Fifth Commandment and other scripture passages. That teaching authority is the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church interprets the Fifth Commandment to mean (among other things) that thou shalt not kill oneself, even if one is suffering; even if one is elderly and suffering.

Not only that, but the Catholic Church teaches that we should offer up our sufferings to atone for past sins; because if we don’t atone for them in this life, we’ll atone for them in the next – in purgatory (assuming we merit that place). Since God is perfect, no one can enter heaven who is not perfect. So we must be purged of our imperfections. Purgatory is where that purification takes place.

The Catholic Church teaches that you can carry out much of your purification here on earth, through involuntary suffering (such as cancer) or voluntary suffering (such as fasting) – and offering it up as a sacrifice to God. In fact, as bad as the pain is here on earth, according to many saints and mystics it is nowhere near as severe as the pain of purgatory. So it is much better to go through your purification on earth than in purgatory.

Not only does physician-assisted suicide curtail that purification, but it also could cause the loss of heaven – both for the sufferer and for the physician. It’s a case of: out of the frying pan, into the fire. It’s possible that the soul could wind up in purgatory – and therefore heaven someday – but the suffering in purgatory would be far, far worse than anything the sufferer endured on earth.

So anyone undergoing or enabling physician-assisted suicide, including those who legislate its legality, are taking a great, great risk. Apart from the worldly evils that can derive from it – such as putting to death the merely depressed, children, and those who don’t consent to it – it could bring on other-worldly evils in the hereafter.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Computer Code in Nature Points to an Ultimate Programmer

computer code 300x212 - Computer Code in Nature Points to an Ultimate ProgrammerWhat if scientists found computer code embedded in our natural world? Not only that, but what if that computer code was identical to code found in, of all places, Internet browsers? Surely you would have to conclude that an intelligent mind had a hand in designing our natural world, and that it did not arise by chance. Because after all, there’s no way computer code – whether it be in Internet browsers or anywhere else – could “evolve” into existence on its own; someone must have put it there.

Well it turns out that a scientist has found computer code embedded in the fabric of reality – which points to strong evidence of a Creator. (The coding we’re talking about here is not that of DNA, which is another topic altogether.) His name is S. James Gates, a theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland at College Park. He studies string theory and supersymmetry, which seek to explain how the most elementary parts of the cosmos work.

Some time ago, when he was developing diagrams to represent equations in string theory, he noticed that these equations are indistinguishable from error-correcting coding found in browsers. In fact, the browser coding is a special kind of coding developed by a brilliant mathematician named Claude Shannon, a pioneer in information theory. 

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Dr. S. James Gates

Huh? That’s huge! Just as browser coding obviously had to have been written by an intelligent mind, the same is true for coding found in nature. It is stark evidence of an ultimate, ethereal Programmer.  

Dr. Gates’ findings are solid. University of Maryland physicist Tristan Hubsch assures that the discovery of coding in supersymmetry is a rigorously proven theorem

To be sure, one commentator points out that we’re not talking about literal computer coding such as found in C++ or Visual Basic; instead, it’s a type of math that’s indistinguishable from Shannon coding – which is a mathematical way to represent information.

The more that science uncovers, the more evidence of The Creator. Dr. Gates told Smithsonian magazine, “I have never found a schism in my life between doing science and having religious beliefs….I believe that both faith and science are essential for the survival of our species.”



Catholic Church Pioneered Hospitals and Large-Scale Charity

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Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. 
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Many people blame Christianity for wars and other calamities in human history. Little do they realize how much more common wars and barbarity were in the pagan world, before Christianity came along.

Evil wasn’t eliminated under Christianity – there always are going to be villains, even among those who call themselves Christians. But Christianity and more specifically the Catholic Church (which for the most part was the only kind of Christianity for about first first thousand years after Christ) certainly did much to mitigate the barbarity of the world – and introduce the large-scale practice of caring for the poor and sick.

Concern for human welfare is readily apparent in the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles when the St. Paul appointed the seven deacons to care for widows and orphans.

W.E.H. Lecky, a 19th century historian highly critical of the Catholic Church, admitted that the Church’s commitment to the poor constituted something new in the Western world, according to Tomas E. Woods’ book, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Before Christianity during the time of the Roman Empire, the poor all too often were treated with contempt, and the very idea of helping the destitute without any thought to reciprocity or personal gain was something foreign to most people – although to be sure, care of widows and orphans was an important part of Jewish life.

In the early 4th century, famine and disease struck the Roman army of Constantine. Tacomius, a pagan soldier in that army, watched in amazement as certain people brought food and other provisions to the starving. Curious, he found out that these people were Christians. What kind of religion, he wondered, could inspire such acts of generosity and humanity? He was so moved that he became a Christian himself.

More than a thousand years later, even the anti-Catholic French philosopher and satirist Voltaire wrote of being am

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azed that Catholic women would sacrifice their position in society to work in hospitals for the relief of the sick.

Charitable work went hand in hand with the development of hospitals, which the Catholic Church also appears to have pioneered. According to Woods, Christian facilities originally provided hospitality to strangers, but eventually cared for widows and orphans and the poor in general. Those evolved into institutions staffed by physicians. By the fourth century the Church began to open hospitals on a large scale, to the extent that nearly every major city in Europe eventually had one.

Certain saints were instrumental in this endeavor. In the 300s St. Fabiola established the first large public hospital in Rome. In Caesarea (in modern-day Israel), St. Basil the Great established a hospital. Known as the apostle of almsgiving, he was particularly known for caring for lepers.

Monasteries were prominent in caring for the sick; they were practically the only organized providers of medical care during the dark ages – after the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 400s. W.E.H. Lecky ackowledged that monasteries became centers of charity: “By the monks the poor were protected, the sick tended, travelers sheltered, prisoners ransomed, the remotest spheres of suffering explored.”

Monasteries not only served as hospitals, but also ran schools, aided the poor, reared orphans, and provided models for agriculture, industry, and forestry. For centuries they were the centers of religious, charitable and cultural activities, writes Woods.

In future posts we will explore other ways in which the Catholic Church established venerable human institutions. Stay tuned.

Origin of Life Reveals a Transcendent Creator

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The probability of an RNA spontaneously forming from simple organic compounds in the primordial soup is essentially zero.

There’s so much evidence for fine-tuning in the origin of the universe, pointing to a transcendent Creator, that scientists had to come up with the far-fetched multiverse theory to try to get around a Creator (even though a multiverse would need a Creator, too).

Now, they’re doing a similar thing vis-a-vis the origin of life. There’s so much evidence that life could not have originated through random chance, implying that it had to have been designed by a transcendent Creator, that (some) scientists are resorting to quantum physics as a possible explanation.

In their book Life on the Edge, Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili (the latter a science popularizer frequently seen on science television shows) discuss the impossibility of life ever originating on its own in the “primordial soup”. When in 1952 Stanley Miller and Harold Urey tried to replicate that primordial soup in the famous Miller-Urey experiment, all they came up with were some amino acids. Such acids are what proteins are made of.

Proteins are the components of cells. (They’re not just nutrients found in meat. They’re so much more than that.) They are molecular structures that take multitudes of shapes, which carry out multitudes of functions within the cell. They are akin to the components of your car engine – i.e. mostly made of metal, but in a variety of shapes and forms (e.g. piston, fan, spark plug, etc.)

Proteins are needed for life to form. Also needed are nucleotides – which form DNA and RNA, the blueprints which instruct amino acids to form the millions of varieties of proteins. The authors cite the Scottish chemist Graham Cairns-Smith, who estimated that just to form an RNA from simple organic compounds in the primordial soup, there are some 140 steps involved. For each step there are about six reactions that have to be avoided. “So the odds of any starting molecule eventually being converted into RNA is equivalent to throwing a six 140 times in a row.” The chances of this happening are roughly one in six to the power of 140.

But six to the power of 140 is far more than there are particles in the universe! McFadden and Al-Khalili write that the earth simply did not have enough molecules or enough time to enable anything like that to happen. And that’s just the first step – random chance also needs to make ribozymes (a certain type of RNA) capable of self-replication. Random chance additionally needs to make proteins. “Clearly, we cannot rely on pure chance alone,” declare the authors.

That points to obvious evidence of a transcendent Creator.

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But McFadden and Al-Khalili are scientists, and the job of scientists is to find natural explanations to things, not supernatural explanations to things – even when the evidence screams supernatural.

So McFadden and Al-Khalili resort to quantum physics to try to come up with an explanation – and quantum physics is very supernatural-like. They suggest that quantum tunnelling (akin to going through solid walls) and quantum superposition (where a proto-enzyme can exist in all of its possible configurations simultaneously) played a role.

Scientists often use the terms “weird” and “strange” to describe quantum physics, because things happen therein that from a classical physics perspective are like little miracles. In quantum physics, subatomic particles can be move through solid walls. They can be invisible. They can communicate instantaneously with a twin particle a billion light years away. And a single particle can be in many different, distinct places and configurations simultaneously.

Scientists have no idea how these phenomena happen. They just know that they happen.

They are stumped enough trying to explain how the natural physical world arose on its own. They certainly have no idea whatsoever how the quantum physical world arose, or how it works.

It’s yet more evidence of a transcendent Creator.

Why Pray?

girl praying 300x200 - Why Pray?If God knows what we need, why pray?

Father Chad Ripperger of the Diocese of Denver reminds us that St. Thomas said prayer is what we owe to God in justice. We have an obligation in justice to pray to God every day. Systematically neglecting your prayer life is a sin against justice because God created you and owns you, therefore everything about you must be subject to him. You must render back to him your mind and heart through prayer.

Not only do you personally benefit through prayer, but you show reverence and honor to God. If you don’t do that, it’s unjust. If you fulfill your part, God will fulfill his part. Saint Augustine said if you do not pray, you will not be saved.

Fr. Ripperger adds that it is a misconception that as long as you stay out of mortal sin, you’re fine. There are also sins of omission. Not praying is one such sin. The obligation to pray, according to the traditional teachings of the saints, is a grave one. If you don’t pray enough every day or if you systematically neglect prayer, it’s mortally sinful. This is because of your obligation to render back to God through prayer your faculties, because he gave them to you.

And if you save your soul but haven’t developed a good habit of prayer, it has to be purged from you in purgatory.

How much should you pray? For laypersons, Fr. Ripperger says it should be a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes per day. That may vary depending upon your obligations and state in life. For example if you have to work 16 hours a day to make ends meet, then perhaps five minutes might fulfill your obligations. But normally it should be at least 15 to 30 minutes. This can be fulfilled by going to mass (which is the most powerful prayer), saying the Rosary (the second most powerful prayer), or other prayers.

Prayer is a habit, which means it only comes from repeated action. The more you do it the easier it gets, to the extent that at some point you take delight in it.

Prayer is the principal means to happiness, points out Fr. Ripperger. The more you pray, the more you become like those in heaven.

There are of course additional good reasons to pray, which we will get into in future posts.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia – and Got Johnny’s Soul

You know the classic song The Devil Went Down to Georgia, where Johnny outplayed the devil on the fiddle and not only saved his soul but also won a golden fiddle?

Well I’ve got bad news for ya. By beating the devil in their little fiddle competition, Johnny didn’t save his soul. Assuming he didn’t repent later, from the way Johnny acted, he may even have lost his soul.

Johnny’s key sin: pride. Dante in his Inferno intones that pride is the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins.

The devil loves pride, and hates humility – which is why the Lord was born into the world in very humble circumstances, and left this world in very humiliating circumstances. (The Romans designed crucifixion to not only give you an excruciatingly painful death, but also a humiliating death.)

Johnny’s fatal words: “But I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret, ‘Cause I’m the best there’s ever been”.

He drives home the point later: “I’m the best there’s ever been.”

That was music to the devil’s ears.

Johnny, you should have told the devil that you’re the worst there’s ever been. Even if you outplayed him on the fiddle, you still should have said he was the better player and deserved to win, and that he should keep that golden fiddle. You should have recited the Litany of Humility prayer every day, and lived it out. Then perhaps you wouldn’t have lost your soul.

In fact, that whole fiddle-playin’ contest was all a set-up by the devil – a ruse. The devil knew all about ole’ Johnny and all his weaknesses – observing him since he was a baby. He decided to one day exploit Johnny’s key weakness – pride.

The devil is constantly deceiving. That’s why he’s called the Father of Lies.

So the next time you’re listening to The Devil Went Down to Georgia, tell whoever is listening to it with you that the song is actually wrong. The way Johnny acted bore all the hallmarks of losing his soul to the devil.

That is, unless Johnny went and made a good confession later on.

Want Better Health? Go to Church

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Church-goers are healthier and happier

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you should be a Christian because you really want to follow the teachings of Christ, not because of any worldly benefits that come with being a Christian.

Even so, there’s one worldly benefit associated with being a regular church-goer that’s worth noting: good physical and mental health. Numerous studies have shown that those who attend weekly religious services enjoy better health, on average, than those who don’t.

Statistically, frequent church-goers live an amazing average of seven years longer than non-church-goers, according to an academic study.

With so many fitness buffs and longevity-obsessed folks, one would think more of them would embrace the Church, given all of the research linking faith and health. Again, this shouldn’t be the main reason for embracing the Church. But it could be an incentive that gets them in the door. Once there, they may even evolve in their attitude and start to go to church out of love of God rather than love of health.

That’s sort of what happened to this observer. After being away from the Church for a number of years, I came back to it upon getting married. Yet I was still lukewarm in the Faith. I read that greater longevity among church-goers could be because of the social relationships one forms there. (I later realized that it’s actually mainly because of the spiritual relationship one forms with God.) It’s one of the things that prompted me to join a men’s group in my church. That along with other positive influences led me to prioritize my spiritual health over my physical health.

So again, while the health benefits of church shouldn’t be an end-all and be-all, they can be a useful incentive.

Atheists, agnostics and non-church-goers take note: your group as a whole suffers, on average, higher rates of physical ailments, depression, suicide, alcohol use and drug addiction. Your group has greater marital instability, weaker parent-child relationships, lower lifetime earnings, lower educational attainment and higher rates of criminal activity. Of course, you personally may be fine. But statistically, you’re at higher risk of the above.

These aren’t some trumped-up claims made by people with a religious ax to grind. These are the conclusions of many scholars in the sciences and social sciences whose work appears in numerous non-religious scholarly journals including Demography, Psychological BulletinJournal of Personality and Clinical Studies, Social Science Research, and Preventive Medicine.

Headlines in — hardly a religious or conservative publication — include “Churchgoers live longer,” “Online prayer helps cancer patients,” “Churchgoers breathe easier” and “Why religion makes people happier.”

Why would preparation for your well-being in the afterlife lead to greater physical and mental well-being in this life?

Religious belief often prompts one to view one’s body as sacred and a gift from God, which reduces the likelihood of such factors as smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, unsafe driving, physical inactivity and substance abuse. Religious persons also tend to have a greater support network of family and friends, which encourages healthier lifestyles. And as indicated above, direct intervention from God no doubt has something to do with it.

People prone to anxiousness and depression tend to die sooner than would otherwise be the case, and religious practice often reduces those negative mental conditions. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that very religious persons are less likely to have been diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes than the moderately religious or nonreligious.

The evidence that religion has such a strong positive effect on health and well-being is so compelling that some non-religious mental health professionals even recommend religion therapy for their patients. “Religious therapy resulted in significantly faster recovery from depression when compared with standard secular cognitive-behavioral therapy,” according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

It definitely cuts down on suicide. A New York Department of Transportation worker, Isidor Suarez, talked a man out of jumping off a bridge. After confirming the man was a Christian, Suarez told him, “If you kill yourself, it’s like murder.” The man relented. He must have recalled the Christian teaching that suicide is a sure ticket to hell.

The hell factor I’m sure is just one of the many factors resulting in less suicide among church-goers. An American Journal of Psychiatry study found that they’re significantly less likely to commit suicide than those who never attend religious services. The latter saw fewer reasons for living and had fewer moral objections to suicide.

Another very secular institution, National Public Radio, featured a story that goes a long way in explaining why religion has such a profound positive effect on outcomes and behavior. The perception that someone or something is always watching, evaluating and judging your every move can make a model citizen out of you in no time.

NPR interviewed Jesse Bering, director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast, and a committed atheist. He conducted a fascinating study where he divided children into three groups and had them do a game where it was almost impossible to win unless they cheated. One group was unsupervised, another group was supervised and another group was told an invisible magic princess was watching them.

The results? You guessed it — while the unsupervised group cheated the most, the magic princess group was just as likely to not cheat as the group supervised by a human.

The NPR reporter mentioned a similar study with adults showing that people are far less likely to cheat when they think a supernatural presence is watching them.

“God knows what you did. God is going to punish you for it. And that’s an incredibly powerful deterrent,” Dominic Johnson of the University of Edinburgh told NPR. “Everywhere you look around the world, you find examples of people altering their behavior because of concerns for supernatural consequences of their actions.”

The French philosopher Voltaire is said to have banned any talk of atheism around his servants. “I want my lawyer, tailor, valets, even my wife, to believe in God,” he said. “I think that if they do, I shall be robbed less and cheated less.”

What if you’re an atheist or agnostic who’s convinced that church is a good thing, but you just can’t bring yourself to believe?

Go to church anyway. As reported by, a study in the American Sociological Review concluded that the social networks one forms at church are a big factor in boosting well-being. People with more than 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as satisfied with life as people with no friends in their congregation. And who knows — you just may come around to believing.

If you still can’t be a believer, raise your kids to be, if you have any. While it’s no guarantee, chances are that it will help them live longer and be happier.

And, as predicted based on the magic princess example above, religious kids are more likely to be better behaved and adjusted, according to a study. (Although the opposite could happen if parents regularly argue over their faith at home, the study found.) Another study concluded that religious children have higher self-control and lower impulsiveness, and do better at delaying gratification and social adjustment.

This begs the question: Would the well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens have lived longer than age 62, had he not embraced atheism?

Not necessarily. If it was smoking and drinking that led to his throat cancer, turning toward religion certainly may not have tempered his preference for booze and tobacco. There are plenty of unhealthy church-goers who die before their time, and lots of healthy atheists who live long and fruitful lives.

Statistically, however, the religious outdo the atheists when it comes to longevity and satisfaction.

Another French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, urged atheists to make a wager. Embracing religion means you have everything to gain in the afterlife if there’s a God, and nothing to lose if there isn’t a God.

But it’s not just the afterlife. When it comes to being healthy and happy, embracing religion means you have everything to gain and nothing to lose in this life, too.


(A version of the above article previouslly appeared in The Daily Caller.)

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