Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Faith Stories of One Good Catholic Girl by Diana Milesko

I'm back with yet another book tour~ This time, I decided to take part in this book tour to try and better understand Catholicism. I do have Catholic friends, but apart from the Vatican, getting a new name at confirmation and the worship of Mary, I wasn't sure what it meant for someone to be a Catholic.

While I can't say the things in this book are true for all Catholics (some of the opinions seem very different from my friends - who were brought up in Protestant schools so....), I can say that this is a fascinating personal account of one women's stories about her Catholic faith.

This book is divided into five parts. Part 1 is called "Early Faith" and talks about what Faith means to her, the Catholic Calendar and Church Accoutrement's (Accoutrement refers to "additional items of dress or equipment, or other items carried or worn by a person or used for a particular activity" - thanks iBooks dictionary). Part 2 is a brief look at Church history. I did see a few factual errors in the ancient Church history part, but the Medieval Church section was really fascinating. Part 3 moves on to the problems facing the Church, and yes, it looks at the sexual child abuse and cover up. Part 4 is titled "Semantics, Religion and Reality" while Part 5 is called "A New Understanding". Put together, Part 4 and 5 is where her hopes for the Church appear most strongly.

As a personal account, I found this book to be informative and engaging. Ms Milesko shares a lot of family stories, including how many of her relatives have ended up leaving the faith due to what they've experienced. On a side note, her siblings account of Buddhism is fairly different from the Buddhism that I see. For example, her sister says that "Buddhism makes us aware of our potential rather than our limitations." which is "unlike Catholicism, which stresses our sins." Actually, a lot of Buddhists worry about whether hell, which you can see from the 7th Month Festival (aka Ghost Festival), and trust me, getting rid of their 'sins' is a priority with them. While she did mention relatives in Japan, I'm guessing that the reason for the difference would be, well, would be like how Siddhartha by Herman Hesse isn't how most Buddhists here think about Buddha. Disclaimer: I have never been Buddhist, so my experiences with Buddhism are all indirect (you know, friends, relatives, that sort of thing).

The only problem I see with the book is that its interpretation of Christian theology is completely wrong. Most of it could be remedied with a straight-forward interpretation of the Bible (I mean taking poems as poems, metaphorical imagery as metaphorical, understanding specific vs general commandments, basic stuff). But then, I remembered from the start, Ms Milesko said that she was not encouraged to read the Bible without a Priest interpretating it. That could explain all the mis-haps. Ms Milesko, if you ever read this review, could I recommend the (free I might add) podcast called Systematic Theology. I find it very useful, and there's a section on interpreting the Bible.

As a side note, I did email one of the theological questions to CMI (one of my favourite ministries. Their reply to my email is in bold:

Dear Eustacia
Thank you for your email. My comments are interspersed below in bold.
Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle 
Creation Ministries International
Recently, I read a book called "Faith Stories of one Good Catholic Girl" that claimed that Original Sin was invented by Aquinas and that "by insisting Jesus died for our sings and everyone who is not baptized is not saved, Aquinas and the Church are constantly tripping themselves up as they amend the story of original sin. Instead, they should consider that Jesus didn't so much die for our sings, as he showed us how to live. Original sin isn't a necessary doctrine, except to shore up the paper house of Church dogma." 
SD: I wonder if she was actually referring to Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430), rather than Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). I haven’t seen the book, so I can’t say, but that would be a very basic mistake to make. The doctrine of original sin received its first extensive treatment in Augustine, but he was not the first to expound on a doctrine of original sin. For instance, the second century church father Irenaeus (c. AD 130–202) said:“For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.18.7.]In this passage Irenaeus merely offers an expansion of Romans 5:19: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” He even seemed to have believed in inherited or corporate guilt (which is much more controversial as an aspect of original sin):“By which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning [emphases added].” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.16.3.]The doctrine of original sin has both ample biblical warrant and strong pedigree in church history. For more information, please see Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam. 
The book goes on to claim that "In his book Is Jesus God? Michael Morwood notes that "Jesus never indicated any 'original sin' theology which held that all human beings are bron in a state of separation from God's grace. The notion of people being blocked from access to God's loving presence is contrary to the heart of Jesus' teaching". "
SD: What does he mean by “‘original sin’ theology”? One essential feature of any ‘original sin theology’ is that we are all sinners by nature. The doctrine of original sin in the Fall explains why. And the inherent sinfulness of man is an empirical fact, explicitly affirmed by Paul (Ephesians 2:1–3), and implied in Jesus’ teaching. For example: 
·         Jesus said nobody comes to the Father unless he draws them first (John 6:44). This tells us we can’t come to the Father by our own power. Ask a simple question: why can’t we? The only reason is that we’re all sinners by nature.
·         Jesus said everybody needed to repent (Luke 13:1–5). How could Jesus be so certain? Clearly the answer is that we’re all sinners.
·         Jesus said repentance for the forgiveness of sins was to be preached toeveryone (Luke 24:47). Why preach forgiveness of sins to everyone if not everyone needs forgiveness?
Jesus clearly agrees with Paul that everyone is sinful. The question is, does Jesus agree with Paul’s explanation of the origin of human sinfulness? On this, we have no statements from Jesus. However, we do know that Jesus affirmed the historical scheme Paul used to explain the origin of human sinfulness (e.g. Mark 10:5–9Luke 11:51Matthew 24:37–39John 8:56–58). And when we combine the biblical historical scheme with the fact we’re all sinners by nature, the Fall is the only logical explanation for how we all became sinners. Moreover, we know that Paul was explicitly commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel. We also have the affirmation from Peter that Paul’s letters extant when he wrote 2 Peter, which would’ve included Romans, were Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). We have every reason to believe Jesus would endorse Paul’s ‘original sin theology’ in Romans 5:12–21, and no reason to claim otherwise. 
It’s incumbent on Morwood to explain why we should have a record of Jesus expounding on original sin during his ministry. Otherwise, his argument is one from silence.As to Morwood’s statement “The notion of people being blocked from access to God’s loving presence is contrary to the heart of Jesus’ teaching”; this is false. Salvation is open to all without distinction, but it is not given to all without exception. There is a condition: bowing the knee to Jesus (Romans 10:9–10). Jesus opens up access to God’s loving presence as the only mediator (John 14:61 Timothy 2:5through his sacrificial death (Matthew 26:28Romans 3:25–26), which Paul argues in Romans 5:12–21 was necessitated by original sin. Morwood seems to think access to God is (or should be) purely unconditional. But how is that just? How could a God who detests sin tolerate it in his presence? How could he ignore sin? The gospel of Romans 3:21–26 says he didn’t—he sent Christ to deal with our sin properly through his sacrificial death for us.

In conclusion, I find this a really interesting book, and I recommend it to those who want to read about what the average Catholic in America feels. I cannot endorse it as a theology guidebook, but since that's not the purpose of this book, I don't see much of a problem if the reader keeps that in mind.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book as part of the VirtualBookworm blog tour in exchange for a free and honest review.


  1. This sounds kind of interesting. As you've noted, for anyone serious about believing official teachings of Catholicism, this probably isn't the right book, but it sounds as if it gives a good glimpse into one person's personal interpretation of and experience of Catholicism.

    Some of her experiences sound, to me, "outdated." As far as I am aware, the Catholic Church is trying to move away from an "emphasis on sin" and find more balance between teaching 1) there is a hell, and people should fear it and behave morally so as not to end up there and 2) we all mess up, and God is merciful. So, basically I don't think "emphasis on sin" is a problem I've heard any young Catholics talk about. I certainly know older people who said they left the Church for that reason.

    I believe Catholicism is currently also looking into encouraging more familiarity with the Bible--rather than discouraging reading it, as was the author's experience. In general, there is a large difference in knowledge of Scripture between the average Protestant and the average Catholic, and Catholics are recognizing this as a problem.

    I'd be more interested in which Christian teachings in the book you think are wrong. For instance, is the author saying things that Catholicism does not teach? Or is what she is saying consistent with Catholicism, but other branches of Christianity do not agree with those interpretations?

    1. Hmmm..... I'm not sure whether it's consistent with Catholicism, but I'm very sure it's not consistent with Protestants (at least, I'm not sure about Orthodox Churches either). The ones that I highlighted (apart from the Original Sin one) would be:

      - Holy Spirit Sophia - Wisdom (although this might be a Catholic concept)
      - The assertion that Christianity arose out of Paganism
      - The claim that no one knows what season the Resurrection occured
      - That God was defined by men in the 4th century (but she does say "Catholic God", so perhaps this claim is not entirely false).


I really do appreciate all comments, and I'll try my best to reply within 24 hours!