Friday, February 24, 2006


I am going to break from my series of religious topics and try something totally different.

Where do you find the best tasting HAMBURGER ?

(Now this actually may be a religious topic to some people!)

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, which is now the fifth largest city in the United States. We have a lot of places to get hamburgers. I do have a favorite spot. Recently one of the local TV stations did a segment on this topic and they took my suggestion and actually video taped me munching on a gorgeous burger. (I will check to see if the link to the video is still alive.)

So, in the comments please list your favorite hamburger place. If you do not eat hamburgers then you may suggest your favorite alternative and the rest of us may want to give that a try.

Here is my list in a rough order of preference:
The Original Hamburger Works, Phoenix, Arizona, The Big One (with bacon added)
Burger King, Whopper
Burger King, Angus Steak Burger
McDonalds, Big N' Tasty
Wendy's, Double Stack
Carl's Jr., Famous Star
Jack in the Box, Jumbo Jack
Elias Brother's Big Boy, Onion Burger (Detroit, Michigan area)
Taco Bell, Bell Burger (no longer available)
Arby's, Super Roast Beef (they don't sell burgers, so next best thing)

I have not tried them but I hear that these are great:
Omaha Steaks Burgers

An interesting "History of Hamburgers" can be found at:

So, what and where is your favorite hamburger?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Religious topic: Baptism, Post #2

In my previous post "Religious topic: Baptism, At What Age?" I focused on the purposes of baptism and how various churches focused on different aspects of the purposes. I also showed that because of those different focuses the ages for baptism vary among churches because those different purposes emphasis different ages.

I am writing a second post on the subject of the age for baptism because the comments of my readers indicate some serious concerns.

Most of the commenters are concerned that people to be baptized should be old enough to make a conscious decision on their own, understand clearly what they are choosing, and make a commitment to living that religious choice.

The issue of being born as sinners and the need to have a conversion from sinful ways to God's ways was mentioned. Because of the need for conversion, commenters believed that the age for baptism needed to be old enough for persons to make a conscious decision about such a conversion.

Those beliefs in sinfulness and conversion are also held by most of the Christian churches and in those churches their procedures and ceremonies for adult baptism emphasize those issues.

The churches that emphasis baptism at early childhood ages look at baptism as being a way for the person to grow up already in a church that has turned away from the sinful nature of human beings. Those churches indicate that children baptized so early must continue to be educated in their faith so that as they grow they will accept the understandings of what baptism is all about and be able to live in those ways. Those churches also accept baptism as adults and young adults.

Also pointed out by commenters was the Christian belief that Jesus' passion, death and resurrection have already provided salvation for everyone. Most Christian churches believe that and also believe that individuals, through baptism, accept and are bought into Jesus' salvation.

There are some people who believe that Jesus' salvific acts were once for all and that people do not really have to do anything (like baptism or join a church) in order to be saved - - they are already saved by Jesus' actions. Most, but not all, churches believe that unbaptized people who live a good moral life can achieve salvation and go to heaven upon their deaths.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 1213) says:
"Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Religious topic: Baptism, At What Age?

Baptism: At What Age?

The question of at what age should people normally be baptized has come up in relation to the topic that recently I was asked about limbo.

In order to discuss this we first need to talk about what the purpose of baptism is. We will also find that we need to discuss what sin is.

For most churches the main reason for baptism is for entry into God's salvation. That concept usually includes entry into a church community, acceptance of God and/or Jesus Christ as one's savior, forgiveness of past sins, a new beginning, and the opportunity of everlasting life in heaven. Note that different religions put varying degrees of emphasis on the purposes that I just listed.

Some churches that emphasize baptism as a way to be saved and allow for entry into heaven promote baptism at very early ages, sometimes as soon as possible after birth.

Other churches emphasize the conversion aspects of baptism of changing one's life from previous sinful ways to a new way of living with God or Jesus. Those churches commonly promote baptism for people of mature age or fully into adulthood.

Sin, in the Catholic way of thinking, is an act by which a person turns away or blocks their relationship with God. In order to commit sin a person must have a knowledge that their action is harmful or evil. An unchurched person may not easily realize that their own evil acts interfere with their relationship with God but as people do grow and mature they should at least learn the difference between good and evil acts.

As children grow and mature, at what age are they able to distinguish between good and evil? That is a difficult question. Children can distinguish between right and wrong very early. But it is only much later that they can make the connection where a wrong act is also an evil act. For example, a young child may not want to eat peas and then picks them up and throws them across the room. Most parents will be able to instill the concept of right and wrong regarding such an act at a very early age. But is it an evil act? For a young child certainly not. Later when the child gets much older such an act might indeed be an evil act though as the child gets older the behavior of the act may change to possibly shouting some rather inappropriate words instead of throwing things. Catholic theologians have often used the age of six or seven for when a child is probably old enough to know when they are choosing between good and evil.

Why do I bring up the concept of at what age can a person understand evil and sin? The reason is that for most churches one of the reasons for baptism is for the forgiveness of past sins and for a conversion or a new beginning of turning away from sinning. For a person to understand such a conversion from sin would seem to require that the person be old enough to understand the concepts of evil and sin.

Because the different churches focus on differing aspects of the reasons for baptism and because those differing aspects have more meaning at different ages of persons, therefore there is no overall agreement among churches as to what age a person should be baptized.

Likewise many people, irrespective of their church affiliation, believe that personal choice is important and therefore they often believe that a person's religious choice should be made at an age when a person is old enough to make such important decisions. Those people tend to object to the baptism of infants and children who are too young to make such choices on their own.

I did find a study that was interesting. It studied college students. It counted students who were previously baptized and whether or not they were still faithful members of their churches at college age. The study also looked at what age the students had been when they were first baptized. The interesting finding of the study was that those who were baptized before the age of 12 were much more likely to drop their involvement with church. Those findings support the concept that I described above of at what age can a child understands the concepts of evil and sin. The person who presented the study results instead of relating the results to the age of understanding of sin instead related that reason to the age at which children become capable of the concepts of abstract reasoning. I believe that the two concepts (understanding of sin and abstract reasoning) are quite interrelated.

From my experience as a Catholic, a church which promotes the baptism of infants, my general observations are that unless a person baptized as an infant continues involvement in church because of their family they tend to be more likely to drop out in later life.

Also from my experience people who choose to join the church from college age or later do so with a firm intention and are more committed to church membership and participation in future years. Likewise persons baptized as infants who for some reason come to a church for a new beginning and purpose also are more committed.

From previous exchanges with my readers here I expect a greater support for the idea of baptism at a later age when a person can make an informed choice. My church, and many others also, promote the idea that children and infants should be baptized either for their "guaranteed" salvation or for the symbolic act of entry into their church.

Since there is truly disagreement among churches as to the preferred ages for baptism, it should also be pointed out that within those churches there are also internal disagreements as to what age for other church essentials such as the age for communion or Eucharist, the age for confirmation, and the age for confession or reconciliation. There are also disagreements within churches about the ages for marriages but those discussions are usually superseded by civil laws.

Recognizing that infant or child baptism does not lend itself to active church or faith commitment in later life, some churches promote re- baptism later in life as an adult.

The Catholic Church, and many other churches, believe that baptism is a one time thing that effectively changes one's relationship with God. Therefore they do not promote or even permit re-baptism. Instead, sometimes, ministers devise some form of recommitment ceremonies.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


L. at Homesick Home has come up with a new MEME. Here are my answers:

1) What was the last thing you prayed for?
I prayed for some people whose situation was mentioned to me in the comments of one of my blog posts.

2) What was the nicest thing you ever did for someone else?
I try to do a lot of nice things for other people but I don't keep track. One that comes to mind: I found an old woman wandering back and forth in front of my house just after sunset. She spoke spanish and I only barely do. It turns out that she got off of the bus at the wrong stop and had no idea how to get back to her daughter's house. We found her daughter's phone number in her purse. Called it and got the address but no one there had a car. I got the police to give her a ride.

3) What do you think about to cheer yourself up when you`re down about something?
I look up at the blue sky and smile. (Here in Phoenix we have a lot of blue sky days.) Then I go out for a walk. (Yes, even in Phoenix's 120 deg F. / 49 deg. C. weather.)

If you read this, in L.'s spirit, consider yourself tagged and write your own answers to these questions. You can put your answers into your own blog or add them to the comments at L.'s post (click here).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Catholic topics: Limbo

Catholic topics: Limbo

I was asked by one of my readers to discuss the Catholic understanding of limbo.

Limbo is a concept that has been an unofficial part of Roman Catholic theology. The term was also used in various non-church literature and, interestingly, that usage later influnced the theological meanings of the term.

Catholics believe in the concept that each person has a soul. A soul is considered to be the essence of the person. The soul exists within the physical, material person. However the soul is believed to continue living even after the physical body dies.

Catholics believe that after a person dies their soul will go either to heaven or hell. In heaven the soul will experience joy and the presence of God. In hell the soul will be deprived of the presence of God.

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived, died, and rose into heaven. They believe that Jesus opened heaven to those who believed and were baptized.

Theological questions arose about what had happened to all of the souls of people who had lead good lives but who had died before Jesus rose and openned heaven. The belief arose that God would not have sent those good souls to hell so they must have had to wait somewhere until Jesus openned heaven. The concept of limbo was the name given to the waiting place.

Since entry into the Church was through baptism, the theological question arose of what happened to innocent souls, especially children, who died before being baptized. It was believed that God would not send them to hell since they were innocent. The belief arose that God had a place for such innocents but that they would not be granted full access to heaven and the full presence of God. The concept of limbo was the name given to the place where non-baptized innocents would go to.

In literature, Dante's "Devine Comedy" describes the first circle of hell as limbo. Dante described limbo as a place for people's souls who lived lives that were somewhat neutral, that is their lives were neither good nor evil.

Because of Dante's description of limbo as being closer to hell than to heaven, a concept that was carried out in future literary writings, people, including Roman Catholics, came to see limbo as a negative place, out of favor with God.

The term "limbo" has never been officially defined by the Catholic Church in official writings. Most recently a papal document that discussed the death of unbaptized infants (for example through abortion) stated that the Church does not know their fate but the Church trusts in the mercy and love of God.

Because of the negativity that became associated with limbo, Catholic parents often felt pressured to have their children baptized as soon as possible after birth so that if they did die they would go directly into heaven.

The Catholic Church also has a procedure called Emergency Baptism whereby anyone can baptize an infant (or any person) who is in danger of death. Nurses in hospitals would often use Emergency Baptism for newborn infants whose lives were in danger of death when the parent was Catholic.

However some people (Catholics and other Christians) sometimes developed the exagerated fear that infants and people might die prior to being baptized and those people would use the Emergency Baptism procedure on any infant or other persons in hospitals, without permissions of the parents or other individuals.

So, what is the current Church thinking? Again, most recent Church documents that mention the fate of those who die without being baptized indicate that a loving and merciful God will take care of them. A theological commission that has been working on many issues is reported to be planning to recommend to the pope that the concept of limbo be officially ended and state instead that babies who die without baptism go directly to heaven. Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI (16th), indicated in a public statement that he wanted to drop the "theological hypothesis" of limbo which has never been defined as a truth of faith.

So, any dicussion or questions?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Catholics and Abortion: Family Planning and Contraception

Catholics and Abortion: Family Planning and Contraception
(Number 5 and last in a series)

The term Family Planning is often used synonymously with the term Birth Control. Both terms mean that a man and/or woman are taking steps to either prevent pregnancy or to enhance becoming pregnant. (I put "and/or" there because sometimes it is a one sided effort.)

There are many methods used for family planning or birth control.

Clearly the most effective way and only 100% effective way of preventing pregnancy is sexual abstinence. But ongoing abstinence in a committed marriage relationship is difficult and sometimes blamed for causing marriage breakups when a couple does not get to experience the intimacy of a sexual relationship between each other. However for unmarried people abstinence is the only method approved by the Catholic Church.

The oldest method of birth control is probably coitus interruptus which is a Latin phrase meaning interrupting intercourse whereby the man removes his penis from the woman's vagina just before he reaches orgasm. That method is considered unreliable since it can be very difficult for a man to maintain the necessary self-control.

The Catholic Church fully supports sexual activity and intimacy between a married couple as "noble and worthy" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 49 and Humanae Vitae no. 11). The Church also teaches that each and every marital act of intercourse must be open to the possibility of the creation of human life as a fact of natural law.

Thus the Catholic church also teaches that many methods of contraception would be a violation of natural law and therefore morally evil because they interfere with the natural processes such as condoms, diaphragms, other barrier methods, spermicides, intrauterine devices, chemical methods such as pills, patches, injections, and implants. Likewise the Catholic Church views surgical sterilization methods as being opposed to natural law because they prevent the possibility of conception.

Certainly abortion, as we have already discussed, or any post-conception method the Catholic Church sees as a violation of moral law.

The Catholic Church does, however, accept certain methods of family planning or birth control that use what are called natural methods. The Catholic Church recognizes that God created human life functions such that not every act of intercourse will produce conception due to ovarian cycles. Because that is a natural cycle the Church believes that taking advantage of that cycle is not an unnatural act.

An early method of birth control that used information about women's' menstrual cycles was the Rhythm Method. Unfortunately the calculation method used allowed for many errors and thus the method was considered quite unreliable. The Catholic Church no longer encourages the Rhythm Method.

A newer method commonly called Natural Family Planning (NFP) uses more precise techniques for each woman to determine when during a woman's cycle she is most likely to be fertile. The approved Catholic method would be to avoid intercourse (abstinence) during that time of fertility. Natural Family Planning does require some training for couples but it can be a very effective method of birth control. Likewise, since the method identifies times of fertility the method can be used as a technique to maximize becoming pregnant. Though the Catholic Church does not approve of artificial contraception using condoms, some couples use Natural Family Planning to identify times during a woman's cycle during which to use condoms versus not using them at "safe" times. (My wife and I used Natural Family Planning very successfully.)

There are some people who claim that since Natural Family Planning uses a thermometer to aid in tracking a woman's cycle that it is not truly natural. However the Catholic Church accepts and promotes the use of Natural Family Planning. In many Catholic dioceses rules require that all couples preparing for marriage take training classes in the method. (My diocese here in Phoenix, Arizona has that requirement.)

The history of the Catholic position about contraceptives had been a bit shakey. Officially, the Catholic Church has never really varied in its objection to contraceptives. However in the 1960's many Catholic theologians responding to questions in civil legislation about contraceptives insisted that it was a private matter to be left to each persons' decision of conscience. Though that argument has great weight in relation to civil law, in relation the Catholic Church view of moral and natural law the Church rejects that reasoning.

During the mid-1960's the Catholic Church decided to reexamine the whole subject of birth control. A commission was established. There were a lot of meetings and inputs from many theologians. Many of those theologians concluded that the commission would eventually recommend allowing certain contraceptive methods including the pill. Many of those theologians encouraged Catholics to consider that option and to use their consciences to decide against official Church teachings. The commission eventually did make recommendations to the pope which included relaxing some prohibitions. However Pope Paul VI released his encyclical Humanae Vitae (Latin for "Human Life") where he did not make any changes and specifically restated the Catholic beliefs.

After the pope issued that encyclical many of the theologians who had essentially staked their reputations on the fact that they expected the Church to change its rules found themselves with problems. Some of them went on to promote the use of contraceptives and encouraging people to make decisions of their own consciences which might oppose the official Catholic teachings. Much confusion was caused among Catholics. To this day their is still much confusion as evidenced by the number of Catholics who studies have shown continue to use contraceptives.

Let me take a moment to discuss the idea of conscience. The Catholic Church believes in the primacy of conscience. That is, a person must always act following their own conscience. Each person has a responsibility to have well formed conscience. However the Church insists that people need to pay attention to the Church's teachings when forming their consciences as a moral obligation.


I have enjoyed writing this series about the Catholic church`s stance on abortion. I am glad that "I was asked" to do it. Though at times I have had to pause and reflect and even stop to catch my breath as I've read comments and e-mails from my readers whose lives and the lives of people dear to them have been touched by this serious issue. I have taken time to pause and pray.

I want to quote here one my reader's comments because she stated it so well. Mary P. wrote:
"This is a fascinating discussion in the abstract. It is tremendously painful in the reality. I ache for those frightened woman; I cry for their unborn children; I rage at those who deny the tragedy of this event, even though I believe there are times when it is necessary - essential even. Even then, it's such a sad, sad thing."


References and more information:

Wikipedia article on Birth Control:

Pope Paul VI encyclical HUMANAE VITAE:

Planned Parenthood's history of birth control. Not just a history of the organization but also a good history of developments of birth control methods and legislation.

What is Natural Family Planning by Phoenix Natural Family Planning Center:

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Pastoral Constitution: On The Church in the Modern World:

Your comments and questions are welcome.
If more issues are raised I will continue this series or begin a new series.