Monday, December 29, 2008
Perhaps I should disclose a number of things at the outset. First, I am a Catholic, and I believe that part of our soul (soul in the Aristotelian sense) is purely immaterial, thus naturally immortal. Second, I believe that evolution is a theory, which is useful in describing how our material being has developed to its present point. Third, I am not a scientist, just a layman who finds himself intrigued by the exchange of powerful ideas in the midst of man’s Great Conversation, and who, to be clear, agrees with various points from both sides of the debate. Fourth, I think I should give a little personal history about why this topic is important to me, which will require a short digression.
I was raised as a Christian, but it wasn’t until my teens that I started to take my beliefs seriously. Thus, it was in my junior-high school years that I quickly gravitated to a fundamentalist mindset; a mindset through which I interpreted the Bible, including Genesis, in as literal of terms as possible. Fast forward a bit – I’m now into high school, my parents have divorced, I’m in and out of depression, and the one strong support in my life is my church. My church beliefs, it must be understood, are connected, rising or falling on the question of the accuracy of the Bible as I then was taught to interpret it. Therefore, taking a biology class in which the theory of evolution is treated as historical fact in a history spanning millions of years, and at the same time attending a church which is teaching me that history only stretches back three-thousand years; well, suffice it to say that the contradiction opened the door for a creeping nihilism and despair.
It’s been sixteen years since high school. Now, as a Catholic, I take a bit of a different approach to interpreting Scripture, which I mention primarily to point out that, even though I disagree with the fundamentalist interpretation, I still have a certain sympathy, in one important regard, for the fundamentalist motive. You see, the fundamentalist, right or wrong, sees the scientist promoting evolution in a way that threatens to dismiss the need for God, destroy transcendent goodness, and undermine human dignity; that, in a word, threatens to render his most cherished beliefs superfluous. I think it’s important to understand this motive, and I think there’s something noble and truthful about it; I’ll return to this in a moment.
The argument that Intelligent Design is not science, but more akin to philosophy, is a strong argument for keeping it out of the mandatory public-school curriculum. But what about a lecture in Biology class, or a biology text book, or a PBS broadcast, which begins, “Man has evolved…”, and which concludes as if evolution accounts for man’s existence in a way that leaves a difference only of degree between he and his animal ancestors, not one in kind? In this case, there’s an implicit clash of philosophy, by which I mean reason, not faith; and, though this clash is subtle, it is, I think, still very much detectable, especially at a sensitive age. I’ve already pointed out where I stand on man’s (immaterial) soul, and I don’t intend to debate the point in this article; my real purpose, to be clear, is to point out that there is a clash, there is a debate, there is a problem -- and I’m sure I‘m not the only one who’s been affected by its implications.
So, what are we to do about this conflict? Well, as someone who’s a Christian and who provisionally holds to the theory of evolution, I suggest perhaps teaching some form of ethics, though one, which specifically proceeds from the conviction that man is more than an animal, that he is, in fact, a rational animal. This was the classical view of man, held by our Founding Fathers, and by both the medieval Christians and the ancient Greeks who influenced them; its propagation does nothing less than form the logical basis for establishing the equality of man firmly in the mind of society, from which it may then issue politically. This is not an article of faith, i.e. a strictly religious proposition, but a subject of rational inquiry; it is for that reason that it serves as a point where religion and science can meet. Thus, certain religions, like my own, can supplement public school curriculum with their particular benefits, not contradict it with whatever unfortunate consequences to which one may be sensitive.
In conclusion, I would say this: though reason can be opposed to some people’s faith, for others it need not be; not, that is, unless reason be prescribed, implicitly or otherwise, to the workings of an irrationally dogmatic materialism. Walking the tightrope between two extremes often seems to be the road less traveled; I think, as the greatest pioneers and martyrs of truth, neither Socrates nor Jesus would disagree with me here. Neither men, however, were pessimists; thus neither would give up hope.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The very slogan itself, really, is an embarrassing tribute to its own authors. I'm sorry to say, it shows they either lack an awareness of, or refuse to acknowledge, the fact that God is not just a being religion holds exists, but philosophy does as well; that He's not only an object of faith, but of reason too; and, in either case, that it's traditionally posited that God is distinguished from all else by having no limitations, so that the slogan reading "a god" is confused from the start. There is and can only be one God, THE God; another "god" would have to be distinguished in some way, which would involve a limitation, thus would not BE God. In a country founded by Christians and deists, who believed in a basic idea of God, which served as the foundation of human ethics, is there, then, perhaps more to this inaccuracy than meets the eye? It's an ever-present temptation for those who want dramatically to alter the present to blur the past, even, I would think, if it starts with the most subtle propaganda (like inaccurate and uncharitable bus slogans).
"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?" Apparently, Thomas Jefferson would seriously doubt that a nation "can be good for goodness sake", that is, if goodness is deprived of an eternal context, i.e., divorced from the notion of God. This philosophical deism of a Jefferson or a Franklin, however, is, in itself, practically dead, and only really survives into the present through living forms of Christianity (like Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity). The rub for certain people is that these active forms of Christianity are, in large part, the primary forces behind things like saving traditional marriage, banning embryonic stem cell research, and attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade. In other words, belief in a God of "justice" and "wrath" currently translates politically, so that political reaction, I'd suggest, is what drives things like "humanist" bus ads.
I hear and read all of the time that people motivated by faith should keep their religion out of the political arena. To an extent I believe this principle is correct, but I think it helps to define that extent, which is really only to reclaim what I believe was understood by our founders, and by those in their succession, like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I'd like to do this, to define that extent, with the help of one more quote from Jefferson, "A free people claim their rights as derived from the laws of nature." For many, that quote might understandably bring to mind the phrase in the Declaration of Independence reading, "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God", especially in light of Jefferson's earlier quote. But the point is that no one that I'm aware of wants to introduce articles of faith into the political arena -- no one, for instance, wants to force public schools to recite the Nicene Creed or, perhaps instead of fluoride, to take Holy Communion wine. Instead, the controversial issues rest, and should be discussed, at the level of "natural law"; that is, as subjects of reason, not faith. Whether or not one's reason is motivated by faith should be of nobody's concern, but that, I'm afraid, is what really angers people.
Indeed, it's religious motivation, I believe, that "humanist" reactionaries attempt to undermine through things like inaccurate and uncharitable bus slogans. To be sure, humanists have their own motives. The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche knew that the death of belief in God would mean the rise of our own selfish motives as gods in His place. Humanist slogans, in that case, might ultimately and more accurately read, "Why believe in God? Trust in OUR gods for goodness sake."
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing." Whatever form an argument against the Catholic Church takes, if it's not the third argument above, I think it's safe to say that that third argument is still looming large in the mental background of the arguer, and working as a strong motive. What I'd like to do, therefore, is offer some clarity on the matter of how to think about the Catholic Church, specifically, about her claims to truth in the face of scandals and abuse.
To begin, I'd like to use a tool from Aristotle, called the Four Causes. The Four Causes are involved in any type of change, and, since the Catholic Church professes to bring the kingdom of God to human beings, to preserve the message of Christ as the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and since this can only occur through time, then it requires development, which is a type of change, thus involves the Four Causes.
The Four Causes are 1) the material cause, 2) the efficient cause, 3) the formal cause, and 4) the final cause. Let's say we want to built a shed. The material cause is the wood. The efficient cause is the builder. The formal cause is the plan for the shed. And the final cause is the purpose: "for storage." Now, let's say God wants to establish a Church. In this case the material cause is a sinful world, sinful human beings with free will. The efficient cause is God. The formal cause is the Kingdom of God. And the final cause is God's glory: the salvation of man. We could say, therefore, that the definition of the Church in light of the Four Causes is this:
The Church is the Kingdom of God made by God working on a sinful world for His own glory, man's salvation.
This, of course, SOUNDS just fine; however, one might object, so does Communism. Therefore, what we want to find out is how the formal and final causes, which are good in themselves, are brought by the efficient cause, God, to materialize in a world of sinful human beings. In other words, the means is always from the efficient cause to the material cause, so, just as we ask how the builder will build the shed (by hammering nails, and putting in the wiring) we have to ask HOW God is going to establish His Kingdom. We'll cover this question in Part II.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Have you ever, in the face of tragedy or some sad circumstance, heard someone say, almost casually, perhaps even stoically, "we just have to accept that it's God's will"? Apparently there are atheists out there who have rejected God in part because they've had such an experience, an experience which instantly and with clarity caused them to deny any such notion as manifestly absurd. My sister just died of an agonizing bout of cancer, and for no apparent reason, and "this is God's will?" You can almost instinctually respond, along with our now-atheist, to hell with such a god. Indeed, but there's more than one way to put it, and more than one way to go from there.
First of all, we have to recognize that such a reaction, if indeed legitmate (not just a rationalization, or worse, a fabrication), stems from the conviction that human beings really are precious, and that suffering and death really are tragedies. But this all implies that, therefore, there is a real good as the source of our conviction; otherwise it's all in our head, the logic of which means the loved who just died of cancer really wasn't precious, and her death really wasn't a tragedy -- the universe could just as well have caused one to delight in such circumstances. In other words, to reject God is to reject any meaning (meaning is about something else), which led to the rejection of God in the first place.
But more to the point, I think that the person who utters the bit about "God's will" implicitly has in mind, or at least he should, some things which qualify his statement, and which are evidently lost on our now-atheist hearers. For example, can anyone really imagine that our unwitting offender does not have in mind something like Romans 8: "18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us...28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose"?
You see, it is only in the face of an atheistic assumption in the first place that tragedy and human worth cannot be taken up and viewed in a broader context, which includes the reward of eternal joy to which "the sufferings of this present time" cannot be compared. The now-atheist all along assumed what C.S. Lewis called "a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils." In short, the now-atheist is reacting to his own limited assumptions. But these assumptions, unfortunately, are found in certain Christian worldviews as well.
Protestant Christians are often incurable Cartesians. They'll appeal, for instance, to God as the clock maker of the universe; this appeal is in perfect keeping with a Cartesian denial of secondary causes, or substances, in the philosophical sense (see the blog entry before the present one). In such a view it logically follows that God directly acts on the world, and thus is the direct cause of pain and suffering. Let me contrast this to the Catholic worldview, which is, quite literally, the common sense worldview.
Whenever I perceive something with my senses, I then understand it with my intellect, or what we'll loosely call mind. For instance, my senses tell me there's something round, and red, but it's my mind that tells me what that something is; we cannot say, there's a red, or there's a round -- those are incomplete sentences. There must be a noun, thus our intellects furnish us with an abstract concept, so that we can say there is a red apple, there is a round apple; or, at it's most indefinte, there is a red thing, or a round thing. Our minds know that apple abstractly, but what they know abstractly is called substance.
Substance is that in which the qualities (accidents, like redness and roundness) we perceive inhere. In Catholic philosophy, God has created substances, or natures, to act on their own. He sustains them in existence, but they directly cause the effects, which we then perceive in the sense world. What this means, simply put, is that God doesn't cause pain and suffering, He allows it through secondary causes, which ultimately has it's origin in human wills. God's original will, His 'antecedent will', which did not depend on the existence of pain and suffering, became His permissive, or 'consequent will', once man chose to take things into his own hands, i.e., after the fall.
In sum, therefore, the sentiment which caused us to find contempt in ascribing God's will to real pain and suffering of real people we know, and then to utter, to hell with such a god, is really a sentiment not directed at the true, living God, the God of Jesus Christ, but at certain false understandings of God; understandings which would have us a) reject His existence in the first place, consequently rejecting real human dignity, and b) reject our common sense in favor of idealism, and, consequently, accept a God of pure will, that is, whim, not one of reason and will. To put it bluntly, the rational foundations of our sentiment, logically expressed, should cause the now-atheist to say, rather, to hell with my now-atheism and any form of Christianity which leads me to it.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Most people think that reality consists of objects existing apart from our minds, which we manipulate, in part, by the application of mathematics: I quite agree. But not all philosophers would be so quiescent: at least their logic, if it could speak for itself, would certainly beg to differ. The ideas of the great philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes present a perfect case in point.
The widely accepted philosophy up to Descartes’ time was primarily Aristotelian--polished up and expounded upon by Thomas Aquinas—which was diffused into the cultural atmosphere by the Catholic Church, and eventually acquired the name Realism. This philosophy considered physical realities to be composed of substance and accidents, or, “secret energies” and appearances (Gilson 163).
The substances, or “secret energies”, were considered the very hearts of things. For example, an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane has accidental appearances which make us aware of it through our senses—it’s shape, color, texture, smell, and relation to it’s environment. But, according to this philosophy the appearances must “inhere” in something (Rizzi 365). That in which they “inhere”, the primary nature of the olive tree, is quite obviously not open to sense perception but known abstractly, by the intellect. Thus the substance, or nature, of the olive tree is a cause of the appearances, itself not visible.
The appearances, or in technical terms, accidents, were grouped into two main categories: quantity, or extension, and qualities. Quantity was considered fundamental, for every quality is an extended quality: redness, smoothness, square-ness -- all of these qualities exist quantified, as extended – even sound can be measured by periods of time. Thinking about extension in the abstract is, according to Realism, the basis of mathematics.
Enter Descartes. Descartes was a philosopher deeply impressed by the clarity of mathematics. In mathematics he could find “the certainty of its demonstrations and the evidence of it’s reasoning”, as Etienne Gilson quotes him (106). Gilson also notes Descartes’ increasing dissatisfaction with other types of knowledge; his Jesuit teacher Clavius had once written, in Gilson’s words, “There are innumerable sects in philosophy, there are no sects in mathematics” (104). This sentiment was likely to have helped Descartes combat the “complete skepticism” he found in the heavy influence (as Gilson contends) of the philosopher Montaigne (Gilson 110). “[Montaigne] had not found the key to universal knowledge” (Gilson 110). Such a clash between total philosophical skepticism and mathematical certainty can be easily seen to have birthed the brain child of Descartes’ “Universal Mathematics”, which, says Gilson, he would endeavor to apply to all fields of knowledge (Gilson 113). This philosophy will use as it’s “first principle” the method of clear (definitive) and distinct ideas (Gilson 122):
“all that can be clearly and distinctly known as belonging to the idea of a thing can be said of the thing itself… But what is it, to know something distinctly? When a mathematician knows a circle, he knows not only what it is [it’s definition]`, but, at the same time, what it is not. Because a circle is a circle, it has all the properties of the circle, and none of those that make a triangle a triangle, or a square a square. Philosophers should therefore proceed on the same assumption” (Gilson 122).
Gilson says that this principle would be the basis of all subsequent idealistic philosophies, for the idea of a thing was to be taken for the thing itself (122).
Up to this point quantity dealt with an aspect of a substance, the abstract consideration of which was called mathematics. Now the abstract definition was, in effect, to be the substance, and it’s “extension in three dimensions” it’s only attribute—it’s only physical property (Gilson 159). This was a move, says Gilson in so many words, that went no longer from physical substances to ideas, but from substantial ideas to physical attributes. (121)
The immediate result of this method in the physical world is, says Gilson, the deflation of all qualities, “such as weight, hardness, colour, and so on” thought to exist in extended things; this in addition to emptying the various words we use for “things” (tree, dog, flower) of any real meaning (160). Realists affirm that, at the very least, the primary qualities (known by touch and, incidentally, in some cases by sight) are necessary to experience the extension of a substance, such qualities being mathematically measurable: shape, weight, size, feel, relation to other objects. One would be inclined to think Decartes, as a mathematician, would be content with this affirmation. However, reversing the order of knowledge and starting from ideas, he could not be. Using the method of clear and distinct ideas you must find these qualities in the idea of extension, not extension by the sensible existence of these qualities (as the Realists say). Further, you must find a reason to think that the idea of extension corresponds to actual extension outside of your mind—including that of your own body. Such an application led to the well known dichotomy still prevalent today in many discussions of mind and matter: the idea of the “ghost in the machine.”
Decartes found justification for positing the idea that extension exists by appealing to the idea of God. These three ideas: “thought, extension, and God” -- no longer inferred from a given, substantial physical reality known first through the senses but, instead, existing as “distinct ideas”-- can be seen (if I may take some liberty with Gilson’s conclusions, 139, 148) winding off as three distinct philosophical paths (Gilson 115). Why? Here’s one major reason Gilson gives: Hume would say “if we have no adequate (clear and distinct) idea of ‘causality’ that can apply to matter, where could we get one to apply to God?” thereby detaching the idea of God from the idea of a reality outside the mind and from the mind itself (Gilson 174). Depending on which way, which idea you’re predisposed to assume, you could find yourself either an Idealist (“thought”—ideas are all that exist), an Empiricist (“extension”-- bodily sensations are all that exist), or an Ontologist (“God”—relying on the idea of God to secure the belief in a physical world). Either way you’re left trapped within your mind, and mathematics becomes confined--not to things, not to external reality, but to the relationships between ideas in our minds.
Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
In the Illuminative and Unitive ways, through which the Saints have advanced, persons can experience “dark nights” heroically, remaining faithful. Persons can also experience imaginative and intellectual visions of Christ, illuminations of some mystery of God, experiences of rapture, flights of ecstasy, spiritual consolations, and other such phenomena -- but most important is the conformity of the persons will and character to the perfection of God’s will, and the steady contentment it brings. Some persons who’ve attained a high degree of union with God, as reported by those who knew them best, have, as a result, also experienced things like the stigmata, bi-location, and incorruptibility (meaning their body does not decay after death, at least, not at the normal rate). The mere fact of these remarkable experiences can certainly awe us, but they also can be profoundly edifying as we grow increasingly unsettled in a world that is not meant to satisfy where only God can.
Initiation In The Purgative Way
The Purgative way, of course, begins with an initial conversion. Scripture is clear that following Christ involves being united to him and other believers through baptism; a baptism which requires faith that, as the Son of God, Christ lived, died, and was restored to a new, immortal life; it is this new life he then offers us to take part in through baptismal waters, continued repentance, obedience, and devotion.
*The first step I’d therefore suggest to begin in the Purgative way is to make a profession of faith, which Christianity has best summed up in what she calls the Nicene Creed (I’ve replaced the “we” with “I”).
I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us (men) and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, And his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father (and the Son) With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
*The next thing to do is to get into contact with a priest or pastor about being baptized, perhaps with the help of someone – a friend or family member -- who is familiar with the process. In Catholicism, if you’ve already been baptized then the next step is to be confirmed. If you’ve already been confirmed then the next step, if you’ve been away from practicing your faith for a while, is to go to confession so you can be, as they say, restored to full communion.
*Finally (this last step is actually involved in all the steps, and continues on until we reach the Beatific Vision) begin to develop a prayer life, grow in virtue and devotion – such things as adoration, reading Sacred Scripture, learning more about your faith, going to church regularly.
These steps, then, begin the Purgative stage, which involves, as the name implies, purging our selves from those things that are not of God. It entails a conversion of faith, what some people refer to as a born-again experience, which is often accompanied by emotions of gratitude, zeal, the feeling of newness, hope and the like. This experience flows over into the will, and naturally leads one to leave behind serious sin – what Catholics call mortal sin.
15As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him…
Between the dry rationalism of Deism, working on the hypothesis of clear and distinct ideas -- despite it's acknowledgement of God's unfathomable attributes - and the wild speculation and untamed compassion of Mysticism, lies the beautiful structure which finds "grace built upon nature," finds the speculative and practical virtues in tact: lies the Christian Church. And this is a great comfort to the intellectually honest who know the "two facts (which) are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in": We "know the Law of Nature; (we) break it." The intellectually honest know that the bridge to the object of our deepest desire cannot be crossed by our own mortal effort, and it is to these that the words of John the Baptist are directed, pointing the way to a Savior.
The fullness of time sees this Savior come forth, out of Nazareth. Jesus the Christ, comes forth, telling us to follow him, to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. This he does in word and deed, enduring rejection, agonizing suffering and eventual death - at the hands of the very neighbors he loved till the end -- and loves even now.
In light of His life, suffering and death; his death, resurrection and ascension, the human purpose has been illuminated: "We were made to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." --Paraphrase from the Baltimore Cathechism.
From the particulars of Scripture, interpreted by the Church and Tradition, are fashioned the Creeds -- namely the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds -- which serve as the most general, revealed principles which enable us to actually "know, love and serve." Instead of being content with mere subjective "sincerity," we can truly live to objectively "advanc(e)…(others)…to the Vision of God." For these generalities breath life into our concrete world of experience through "religion itself -- prayer and sacrament and repentance and adoration" - all done with the aim to trust Christ and obey his command to love our neighbor, having in mind "a concept of neighbor that knows no bounds…even extend(ing) to enemies," in the words of Pope John Paul II.
The Christian apologetic is thus beautifully expressed by Etienne Gilson, summarizing the approach of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, "[He] posited an infinite God at the beginning and end of…theology; (to) …act both as a general qualification applying to all theological statements, and as an invitation to transcend theology…by entering the depths of mystical life," where "reason gives way to love."
Love is the means to man's final end: union with God. "In this life," that union can be sought through the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. To be sure, meaning in life must be concrete -- a point well noted by the existential psychotherapy of Victor Frankl. Moreover, the answer to that need begins in the Catholic call to a vocation, a call which starts to reconcile the paradoxes and supra-rational implications our intellects find in God, man, and immortality -- letting us find, concretely, that "conceptually irreconcilable propositions, in being lived, are one."
Sunday, November 2, 2008
To be sure, Mr. Powell, speaking largely in code, was saying it's primarily because John McCain has embraced people like faithful Catholics, who wish to see Roe overturned, and the prevention of the application of the Comity Clause to the homosexual marriage issue, that he is fleeing the party by way of his support for Mr. Obama. Now, it may be that McCain will ultimately betray people like me when it comes to choosing Supreme Court Justices -- I can only take his word that he won't. However, and regardless of "what ifs," we should all keep in mind that Powell HAS taken McCain's word as one major reason to support Obama -- thus, for people like me who find Colin Powell to be insightful, straight forward, and credible, just as large of a reason not to.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A free people claim their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” Note, Jefferson did not say a free people claim their rights as derived from a Constitution, for the rights enumerated in the Constitution must be a reflection of the rights found in natural law. When you ask people about equality, they often reply, “we’re equal before the law,” and they’re right, we are equal before the law according to the Constitution. However, the real question is, are we equal in reality, as a law of nature, which the Constitution then reflects and secures as law?
A negative answer to the latter question lands morality in subjectivity. Subjectivity is the basis for might makes right, which runs counter to a rationally based ethic; an ethic which all persons are rationally obligated to uphold, and which forms the basis for freedom and true happiness. The logic of subjectivity goes like this, If value and morality are purely subjective, that is, exist only in your head and not as a reflection of reality, then when you say that such and such is wrong you are really saying you feel or imagine such and such is wrong *even though it's really not*. The 'really not' logically accompanies every expression of your subjective moral view *if value and morality are purely subjective.* Now, when I say 'really' I mean 'in truth', and I accept the classic definition of truth: 'the conformity of the mind to reality.' Therefore, to take the subjectivist line looks like this, in real terms: Think of an atrocity -- take the holocaust for example; most likely, you believe it's appalling and just plain wrong. However, if you take the line [subjectivist x] takes, you will be saying, "I feel the holocaust was wrong, but it really wasn't." Or, "I think dragging homosexuals behind my car is wrong, but it's really not." This is monstrous thinking, and it’s patently false.
Invariably, discussions about the natural law produce some form of this common response, “but desire x IS natural because people are born with the inclination; plus, such desires exist in the animal kingdom”. However, if natural law is to mean anything, then clearly we cannot say that just because a person is born with a certain tendency that therefore it is natural; likewise, we cannot point to animals and say that what is natural for them is natural for us – clearly, we cannot do this. No, the meaning of natural law -- what Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Aquinas, and other great proponents of natural law knew it to mean -- starts from the premise that man is a rational animal, that it is part of our nature to rationally govern our mere animal desires according to an outline, an over-all goal. The rational part, if you’ll notice, allows us a certain insight into the skin, so to speak, of other rational animals – we can speak for other people, for our rationality is in some way common. For instance, according to the self-evident principles of rational thought, we can say that any given person is in error if they state that a finite part is greater than the whole of which it is a part; likewise, if another person affirms that two and two equal six we can speak for them and say that they are wrong.
However, many people want to treat morality as if it somehow escapes our ability to speak from within each other’s skin; but this is simply nonsense. There are certain things we can say with certainty about other human beings concerning moral choices. We can say, for instance, that acting on the anorexic aversion (not acting to eat normally) is bad for human beings, but we can also say it is wrong. It is wrong for you to starve yourself, because it is wrong for me to do so; since we share the same essential nature I cannot say that something, which adversely affects what is essential to my being, is ok for you, since it effects what is conceptually indistinguishable from my own nature (your essence). We’ll return to this a bit later.
When the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, this is a statement -- concerning equality (not creation) -- of Natural Law: objective fact. But what does it mean? How is each individual who differs in appearance, talent, ability, contribution, sex, etc.; how are we all *equal? Simple, we're equal in essence*, in WHAT we are: "rational animals." Again we turn to Jefferson, "We believe that man (is) a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of justice." The "rational" part of "rational animal" places us above mere animal instincts, and allows us to govern our actions and form habits according to an outline, or plan, based on what we know is good and basic to our human nature. This "governance" of our desires and actions, forming firm dispositions, or habits, is called virtue. It’s interesting, and probably no strange coincidence, that Jefferson mentions “justice” in his quote; indeed, for the entire grand edifice of objective morality rests squarely upon the question of the nature of justice -- a problem which was formulated by Plato some two-thousand-plus years ago, and to which there is only one solution.
Justice – A Problem
“If I can get away with anything – even by the help of a magic ring which can make me invisible – , why should I be just towards other people?” That is Plato’s Ring of Gyges dilemma, and Mortimer Adler says it is one of the “most difficult questions about justice that have ever been raised” (http://radicalacademy.com/adleronjustice.htm ). Mr. Adler also goes on, in the aforementioned link, to present an answer, one I’m going to paraphrase, a bit later, in light of what preceded in this essay, and with the addition of an important concept, which flows from equality and natural law: the common good. But first:
I think most people have at least a vague understanding of the difference between liberty and license. I think most people tend to think of “liberty” and equality at least implicitly in these terms:
“Liberty to act on one’s behalf must be fenced off by the equal liberty of others, so that freedom for one individual doesn’t become oppression for a second.” – M. Stanton Evans
I left off earlier speaking about our rationality -- our intellect and our will; that herein lies the basis for discovering the difference between what’s natural for man and what’s natural for animals. The difference is that man not only has instincts and inclinations, he knows about them, and can arrange them according to an outline, according to a “pursuit.” But this “pursuit” is not spontaneous, we have warring tendencies within us, tendencies which have to be disciplined, which take a tremendous effort to tame. Here’s an illustration:
Let’s imagine millions of people suddenly transported to an undiscovered country -- the result would be chaos; this raw state would need a governing body to establish and maintain peace, or harmony. In order for this government to be a fair government, it would have to “fence off liberty to act with the equal liberty of others.” It would have to tame, so to speak, those “tendencies” which would oppress others, in order to have peace.
Likewise, this taming is precisely what man has to do at an individual level with the inner disharmony of his soul: we have to fence off the liberty of warring tendencies within ourselves, which would otherwise oppress us, would keep us from attaining what is truly good for us. In a word, we have to practice Prudence, Moderation and Courage, and do so to the extent that there is harmony within the soul, that there is contentment regardless of external circumstances. Such harmony, or inner liberty, naturally results in the recognition of another human being as an end in himself, and of humanity as, in Kant’s words, a “Kingdom of Ends.” Good will is the logical consequence of the recognition of all human beings as “ends in themselves”, and is what we call Justice. Our solution to the problem of Justice is almost at hand, we need only consider one more objection.
Moral Imperatives -- Categorical Vs. Hypothetical
In our earlier discussion under Natural Law, we touched on a fascinating characteristic of rationality; it allows us a perspective that all rational beings ought to share, otherwise their minds are in error. This perspective is, in fact, an absolute perspective, that is, it is universally true. We used the example of a self-evident principle -- that a finite whole is greater than the parts of which it is composed -- and said we could do the same with morality. To a subjectivist, however, we’ve entirely begged the question.
A subjectivist will say that all “oughts” are dependent on ifs, and will add that you cannot make any outside observations that will produce a (rationally) imperative “ought.” In other words, they’ll say that no matter how often you observe people relating to other people in a way we consider good, you can never say that therefore people ought to act in such a way; to do so, they say, is merely expressing your own preference. Let me put this another way.
The philosopher Hume pointed out that you cannot say the sun ought to rise tomorrow because there’s no contradiction in saying the opposite, thus no rational imperative not to. For Hume, and most philosopher’s after him, it followed that if you could not find an ought in the descriptive world – the world you could observe, thus describe – you certainly could not find one in the prescriptive world, which involves a person’s will, and how he ought to act. The most you can say is that if you want this or that outcome, then you ought to act this or that way; the “if”, however, is, according to them, entirely hypothetical -- as opposed to necessary (imperative). This being the case, you cannot speak for anyone else and say that what he or she is doing is right or wrong.
The problem with Hume -- as with the new atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, etc., and, I might add, with the economists and business owners of our day -- is that he takes up a purely hypothetical perspective to begin with. Hume doesn’t exist in a purely third person point of view; neither, obviously, do we. If we’re going to take up a purely hypothetical position to begin with then obviously, any firm basis we look for within it can be no less hypothetical. But even when we attempt to speak “from the perspective of nowhere”, it is we who are taking up that perspective, it is we who are bringing our faculties of knowledge to the equation, so it quite reasonably follows that we must include this fact, and all it entails, in our equation.
The Common Good
By now, if I’ve succeeded, there should be a basic image materializing in your mind -- a sort of alignment or focus, which is come to by the whittling away of non-essentials. So far, I’ve attempted to communicate this image in three different ways.
1.) From the fact that we are rational animals we see that an essential equality exists between all such members of our class, which excludes non-essentials (For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend we can create perfect triangles in reality, triangles of all manner of sizes and colors at either right angles or various degrees of acute or obtuse angles. They would all be different yet each would share the same essential nature with every other -- the same essential nature would define each as a triangle. Therefore if I said all such triangles are created equal when clearly some are larger and/or more to our liking in shape and color, then in what way could I possibly assert that all triangles are created equal? Well, if I went on to define their essential nature and said "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all triangles are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inherent properties, that among these is the property that the sum of angles is always 180 degrees"; if I put it that way it would make perfect sense to talk about equality. We’ve whittled away “non-essentials”).
2.) We saw that, both in society and in our own conflicting desires, true liberty comes by fencing off (whittling away) unbridled liberties (licenses) in conformity with a purpose.
3.) We’ve also intimated that there’s a fixed perspective, which, when you strip away all non-essential colorings, all preferential, purely subjective shadings, is, for every rational being, inescapably furnished with its own facts and laws.
Picking up where I left off in my criticism of Hume, and with the point of #3 in mind, it’s important to understand that there’s an essential and unchanging degree of first person perspective in any objective truth claim or observation – this holds for everyone, regardless of their field. This means that, in addition to facts we arrive at by observing them from the outside, there are also facts that are just as real, which, in fact, are conditions for the former, which we arrive at by experiencing them from the inside. Seeing logical connections, having universal ideas; these we know are identical in other minds, which have truth. A mind, which does not see that a finite whole is greater than its parts, does not have truth; this I can say absolutely, for its’ opposite is unthinkable.
So, is there another principle, whose opposite is unthinkable, and which we can find from the inside of experience in regard to the question of morality? We’ve already established that justice unites us in good will to every other rational being by virtue of our equality, the only thing that remains is to remove the hypothetical if, so that we say not “if we wish to have good will towards ourselves then we ought to have good will towards others,” but “since we are rationally obligated to have good will towards ourselves, therefore we ought to have good will towards others.” This we can do by, as you’ve guessed, finding a principle, a fact, from the inside of experience, whose opposite is unthinkable; namely, the fact that our will desires one thing for the sake of itself and nothing else: happiness (defined as "that state of human well-being which leaves nothing more to be desired”). As Mortimer Adler put it, "try finishing the question, I want happiness because...": it cannot be done. Our will necessarily desires happiness, but is free to choose the means; yet only the means, which are true properties of happiness (the good), ought to be chosen -- to deny this is to deny that our will desires happiness for the sake of itself alone.
From the fact of our common first person perspective that we desire happiness for the sake of itself alone, it follows that the true properties of happiness are, in essence, the same for everyone – that there is a common good; that I cannot claim a non-essential, which violates the common good, as part of my obligation to myself and to others.
Liberty For All
In conclusion, I hope to have shown that it is only from this progression -- Natural law, to equality, to justice, to the common good, that we can finally end at liberty for all, and that we can rationally oppose that philosophy, which runs counter to true liberty: might makes right.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Now, this question takes on even more significance in relation to the question of God’s existence because, as the Saints attest, it’s also directly related to our will; related to morality, consequently to the way we perceive and experience reality, and, in turn, to the attending degrees of happiness we can attain.
So, here’s the point. There are two worlds we know. We know the outer world we perceive with our senses and interpret through our intellects. We also know the inner world which is related to the outer through desire. The best we can do by examining the outer world is come to know about God’s existence through logical inference. But unless this “about” knowledge of God’s existence is connected to the inner world of human desire then it is, for all intents and purposes, practically useless -- thus irrelevant. However, to think of God purely as an intellectual object is to really miss not only the point of religious experience, of religion itself, but also the most fascinating fact about ourselves: "All [our] life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of [our] consciousness.”
To Jews before the time of Jesus God answered to the thirst for justice and righteousness, to the promise of a kingdom which would establish these realities. To Christians, not long after Jesus’ time, inheriting the Greek notion of God as the Good, God thus answered, in addition to the need for a kingdom of justice and righteousness, to the human desire for an “unattainable ecstasy”, which not even God’s earthly kingdom could grant. God, then, according to the most holy saints, is directly related to us as an object of desire which is acquired by virtue and grace; an acquisition, a union, from which, once had, flows the unshakable happiness which only a being, existing above space and time in the eternal now, could induce.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Looking back on it all I think my discovery can be generally summarized by the words of George Brantl:
The roots of religion must be sought in human need, its fruit in a personal response. It is only from the matrix of human need that reason can move, as it is only in the waiting, thirsting spirit that revelation can find reply.
Both Lewis and Huxley helped me realize that God is related to us not just in abstract propositions, the content of which we’ll know only after death -- in Heaven; but here and now in our most favored experiences and in potential degrees of union by which we can come to know Him, even to the extent that we can achieve, along with Brother Lawrence, a "faith [that] becomes so penetrating… it could almost say, ‘I no longer believe; I see and I experience.’”
To begin, I’ve gathered a collection of C.S. Lewis quotes -- taken from his various works -- regarding our deepest longing, which express an insight that really had an impact on me:
You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread... though you cannot put it into words . . . Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction . . . – something… always on the verge of breaking through… something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires . . . you are looking for, watching for, listening for…
The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject which excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy…”
Other grand ideas—homecoming, reunion with a beloved—similarly elude our grasp. Suppose there is no disappointment; even so—well, you are here. But now, something must happen, and after that something else. All that happens may be delightful: but can any such series quite embody the sheer state of being which was what we wanted?
All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness... the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of spatiotemporal experience...
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
What C.S. Lewis has just expressed as a result of his own experiences compliments well what we may call the mystical perspective. At the heart of mystical theology is what theologians call the Beatific Vision, the purpose for which man is made; this spiritual vision, as traditional Christianity has maintained, is a result of the union of the human soul, through Christ, with Almighty God -- thus resulting in a direct vision of Him. Mystical theology conceives degrees of union with God before death, but, according to Christianity, the ultimate goal and purpose of human life – the Beatific Vision – can only be attained after death.
Whatever else Heaven entails – glorified bodies, new heavens and a new Earth, reunions, etc. – first and foremost salvation is the attainment of what Lewis called the “unattainable ecstasy… hover[ing] just beyond the grasp of [our] consciousness”: God. Understanding God in this way helps remove Him from the unimaginable and unappealing world of abstract propositions and places His reality at the very center of our deepest, most meaningful experiences. Many have voiced, in one way or another, their own introspective discoveries. From ancient Christians like Saint Augustine:
"Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new…Thou hast formed us
for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."
To contemporary poets like Edgar Allan Poe:
The origin of poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder beauty than earth [this life] supplies.
To atheist philosophers like Bertrand Russell:
The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God.
Each of us has a multitude of unique ways by which we’ve gained a “dim sense of something beyond [our] reach [which] far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth". It is this longing, this thirst, which, as Brantl elsewhere notes, is the very root of religion, and it is the only place we can really locate a common bond of all religions.
THREE PROPOSITIONS OF THE MYSTIC PERSPECTIVE
The mystic perspective understands God as the object of an experience too great for words, which (Christians would add), once had (in the Beatific Vision after death), will never end. Following Huxley, though taking some liberties, we can say there are three propositions at the heart of the mystic perspective. 1.) God is the source of all things, and cannot be known in the same way we know them. 2.) There are degrees of contact by which we may know God. 3.) The purpose of life is to achieve union with God, even here and now, through the Natural and Supernatural Virtues (Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation, and; Faith, Hope, and Love), understanding that ‘action is subordinate to contemplation’.
Concerning the first proposition, Christian mystics would agree, in a sense, with Huxley when he writes, “Let us consider these negative definitions of the transcendent and imminent Ground of being… God is equated with nothing. And in a certain sense the equation is exact…The Ground can be denoted as being there, but not defined as having qualities.” God is defined negatively, with the exception of his existence; in other words, He is unlike the things of our experience -- not finite, not sensible, not mutable, and not imperfect -- with the positive exception that He's like the things of our experience in so far that He has existence. Yet there are some colorful “metaphysical” angles, which add effect to viewing Christianity from this perspective. For instance, it’s inherent to this perspective that God is timeless, that He exists in an eternal Now, that He is self-sufficient, and that He is Pure Awareness, Being, and Bliss. C.S. Lewis comments,
Great prophets and saints have an intuition of God which is positive in the highest degree… they have seen that He is plenitude of life and energy and joy, therefore they have to pronounce that he transcends those limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality, and the like. The positive quality in Him…is their only ground for all the negatives… He is unspeakable… by being too definite. It would be safer to call His [reality] trans-corpreal, trans-personal.
The second proposition of the mystic perspective observes degrees of contact with God most generally known as the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive ways. The Purgative way encompasses an initial conversion to Christ -- a turn from serious sin, a profession of faith, devotion and obedience to Him by baptism, prayer, Scripture reading, attending church, confession of sins, extending forgiveness, volunteering to help others, etc --; this conversion is often accompanied by various emotions and delights called “consolations.” In the Illuminative and Unitive ways persons can experience dark nights, visions of Christ, flights of ecstasy, and all manner of phenomena; but most important is the conformity of the persons will and character to the perfection of God’s will. Such persons who’ve attained a high degree of union with God, as reported by those who knew them best, have, as a result, also experienced things like the stigmata, bi-location, and incorruptibility after death (meaning their body does not decay, at least, not at the normal rate). The mere fact of these remarkable experiences can be edifying to us in the face of what may seem are never ending internal battles, as well as feeling distant from God’s reality.
I saw Him with the eyes of my soul more clearly than I could ever have seen Him with the eyes of the body…I was much harmed at the time by not knowing that one can see with other eyes than that of the body. –St Teresa of Avila
When we discover, perhaps only through second hand accounts, that the mere possibility exists for human beings to “see with other eyes than that of the body,” our Christian hope expands upon a whole new frontier. On the one hand, C.S. Lewis reminds us, in the face of dangerous esoteric mysticism, that first and foremost “[we were] born to adore and obey” -- taking his cue from the Scotch catechism which reads “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (the old Catholic Baltimore catechism reads similarly: “we were made to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”) Yet on the other, Lewis was neither a Stoic nor a Puritan, and himself received otherworldly nourishment through the imagination. He writes, “…deception is… in that prosaic moralism… which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness,’”
There are two mutually opposing views about union with God. These two views equally effect how one views salvation, that is, the means or path by which we come to God in the Beatific Vision. The first view is that of the pantheist, who says God is equally present in everything; the second view is that of the Christian who would qualify that in words similar to Lewis’, “God is present in a great many different modes: not present in matter as He is present in man, not present in all men as in some, not present in any other man as in Jesus." Huxley takes the Eastern, esoteric view that there’s something in our soul identical to God, which means we are already God and we merely need to shed what is not Him. This view ultimately ends in the annihilation of our being. Christianity, on the other hand, says that we are not God but need to become adopted sons and daughters of God, become divinized, participate in God’s nature; yet we can do so only if God first became man. As Lewis put it:
[U]nfortunately we now need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all--to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die… But supposing God became man--suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person--then that person could help us.
This idea that God is related to us somehow within our soul, that there are degrees by which we are connected to Him, has another important implication. John 1:4-5, 9 says the following: “In Him (Christ) was life, and the life was the light of ALL men And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it That was the true Light which gives light to EVERY man who comes into the world.” This means that Christ speaks to every person in some way whether or not they’ve ever heard of the historical Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and that their response to Christ’s voice determines whether or not they partake in the divine nature which Christ, by “paying our debt”, is able to offer. Christians believe that, ordinarily, salvation works through the normal means Christ gave us: baptism, belief, and obedience. However, God is not bound by those means so that we can have a firm hope that sincere people of other beliefs will indeed participate in Heaven; Lewis put it this way, "[t]hough all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life."
Finally, the third proposition reverses what has rather recently become the accepted order of means and ends. The problem has a diagnosis--one fleshed out by many, including Mr. Huxley who puts it quite succinctly: “In traditional Christianity…it was axiomatic that contemplation is the end and purpose of action.” He later quotes St. Thomas, “Action…should be something added to the life of prayer, not something taken away from it.” Father Dubay has a complimentary insight, “Everywhere I meet sincere people who are hungering for something deeper than what they hear in the Sunday homily…men and women tell me that they never hear of contemplation.” The prayer of contemplation is an experience, which takes place beyond the senses, and beyond words and concepts; it is not the average laundry list type of prayer we all think of, it is, in fact, a deep union of spirit with Spirit.
There are constantly movements which seek to get back to the pure gospel and re-discover it’s power. All such efforts that I’ve seen are doomed to neglect the most historically obvious diagnosis of why we truly left it, and thus neglect the remedy: a countering of the effect which has confused ends and means. Since (contemplative) prayer has taken a peripheral role Christianity has consequently lost it’s inner depth—the contemplative dimension remains closed, the higher degrees of contact with God remain unknown, and the philosophical insights of the first proposition remain disconnected from any meaningful experience.
Where our fathers, peering into the future, saw gleams of gold, we see only the mist, white, featureless, cold and never moving. --Lewis
Thursday, September 25, 2008
To begin, no consideration of Christianity can do justice to the facts without acknowledging one of it’s core assumptions: that man ultimately seeks the destruction of his sin--whether he knows it (and acts on that knowledge) or not--in order to attain true happiness. It follows from this tenet that man’s unhappiness necessarily reveals his condition, and that, conversely, the sinful are necessarily unhappy. At first glance we appear to face a paradox, for the man Christians call theanthropos (the God-man) cried, bled, faced an agonizing passion, and, among other horrible things, was eventually murdered. Could such a man be considered happy? Moreover, many non-Christians, including atheists, consider themselves quite happy--feelings and over-all impressions are something with which, when felt, cannot be argued. The answer to this paradox rests upon the definition of happiness, and ultimately upon the meaning of the word love.
Happiness and love, in the traditional Christian sense, are primarily concerned not with feelings and over-all optimism (or pessimism, as the case may be) of the moment, but with the purpose or end for which human beings have an innate desire and need. On the one hand we are creatures in time living from moment to moment, moving from one desire to the next. The extent to which the needs of our human nature are met, considering life as a whole, is the extent to which we can consider our lives to be good, thus happy. On the other hand we can never experience such a “life as a whole,” we can never experience the string of moments which make up our lifetime all at once, and this contradicts a very real desire of human nature for something beyond time, which would fulfill our nature completely—“the satisfaction of all our desires: extensive, in regard to their multiplicity; intensive, in regard to their degree; protensive, in regard to their duration”. The human desire and need for this timeless object, which Chesterton has called our mystic sense, is found in all cultures and times by religious and non-religious alike. Bertrand Russell, a well known atheistic philosopher, has vividly recorded his own experience of this desire:
I am strangely unhappy... The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like passionate love for a ghost ...it is the actual spring of life within me.
Here we gain an insight into why it is the Christian says that Christianity is not about mere morality, or virtue. The virtues are, of course, inseparable from a Christian life, but they are not solely for the acquisition of the goods of this world. The well rounded Greek philosophy of life, which the Declaration of Independence implies by phrases such as “Laws of Nature” and “pursuit of happiness”, includes the Cardinal Virtues, as well as the lesser virtues. But the Christian life adds to those the three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. The last virtue, Love, presupposes Faith and Hope, and has it’s greatest exposition in the Sermon on the Mount. It is this Love through which, the Saints tell us, we will achieve the attainment of our highest end: a remaking, a transfiguration, an apotheosis of our very nature which is a direct vision of God by which all our needs, in their height, width and depth, are directly fulfilled and sustained. The Beatific Vision-- the end result--is Peace, Joy and Love; Being, Bliss, Awareness. “Christ became man so that man may become gods”.
Both definitions (1.)life as a whole—the Greek well rounded life; and 2.) the experience of a completely fulfilled life—the supernatural life) of goodness, happiness, morality and love find their discernable basis in reason applied to human nature—to natural law. But there’s a remarkable difference which effects the very definition of virtue and morality, which in turn provides the basis for distinguishing the sense in which Christ’s life was truly good, or happy, as opposed to the person who does not have the Theological virtues but has everything else which provides Happiness in the Greek sense.
To highlight this difference we must regard the will. What we call “will” is a disposition, a habitual inclination, a potential to act and react in certain ways to given circumstances. Unlike an emotion or desire--known immediately in the present moment-- “will” is cumulative and is known to us by an abstraction from a period of time, a string of moments; it is known by looking back at a pattern of behavior made up of momentary decisions. At any given moment an Olympic marathon runner has the potential to run laps upon laps and miles upon miles around a track. Unlike someone who is out of shape and has not trained this habit, who has not developed this potential, the marathon runner has an immaterial power—it exists accumulated through time and is, now, accessible to the present as well as, to a limited degree, future moments. Thus man is more than his present appearance: he has powers made up of past decisions.
This power, as it concerns moral decisions, is one good which sits alongside three other “goods.” The Four Goods, as Mortimer Adler had categorized them, are the three "goods of fortune": 1.) "external goods...[moderate] wealth [etc.]"; 2.) "bodily goods...health [etc.]; and 3.) "social goods...friends and the society in which we live"; and, finally, the fourth, which is the “goods of the soul: knowledge, truth, wisdom and moral virtue.” The first three are separated from the last because the last is primarily a matter of will, not chance circumstances. The last in that list of the “goods of the soul,” the moral virtues, provide the knowledge, balance and discipline needed to pursue the other goods if circumstances allow them to come our way. Just like the runner’s potential power which exists for him at any given moment, cultivating virtue provides a person potential power by which to act appropriately in variously given situations.
The Greek idea of happiness, which we will call the “natural” idea of happiness, is exhausted by these four goods. A lifetime spent acquiring all of these goods is considered to be the natural happy life. The opposite of this idea of a happy life is a tragic life. But we can fall back on that distinction between the four goods in order to find a distinction in what we call a tragic life. A tragic life is one in which it’s time was cut short before it acquired all the goods it needed. Now, a person can have a certain well being of mind even in circumstances where their external goods are deprived, including, ultimately, their very physical life itself. This mental well being, if we call it happiness, will have as it’s opposite: neurosis.
How does this effect our dilemma? Our dilemma, if you’ll recall, is that of finding the basis for distinguishing the sense in which Christ’s life was truly good, or happy, as opposed to the person who does not have the Theological virtues but has everything else which provides Happiness in the Greek sense. Given the distinction between happiness and tragedy, Christ’s life was tragic. Given the distinction between happiness and neurosis, surely Christ’s life was happy. But this does not answer our dilemma because we would have to make the unfounded assertion – proven wrong by experience – that all non-Christians are therefore neurotics, and, conversely, no Christians are. This is simply untrue. Thus we cannot find the answer in the Greek idea of happiness as it stands, unless, according to logic, that idea is incomplete. The Christian answer to our dilemma is that it is incomplete, a point most clearly seen by the two differing definitions of “love.”
The altruistic desire of love for others is part of the “fourth good” of which we just spoke; it is rooted in the desire for a deeper union with the beloved, and the means to this end is to will the good of the beloved. Similarly with our neighbor. The good of our neighbor: "external goods...[moderate] wealth [etc.]"; "bodily goods...health [etc.]; and "social goods...friends and the society in which we live," offers our will the concrete data we should, to the extent we can, will for our neighbor--thus giving content to the term "love" (the fourth good is a matter for our neighbors own will). In short, love is founded on the definition of good, which is founded on the common needs of human nature--this “natural law” is, incidentally, the only basis for the establishment of a free, democratic society. But if one of those common needs of human nature is the need for something transcending time--the need to be united with eternity--then hope is the only home for man in which he can be truly free, truly natural, and truly happy. The initial reaction of a “happy” non-believer to this view is that he does not have this actual hope, yet is still happy. Two things must be remembered.
First, simply because one doesn’t feel a need in either it’s hopefulness or desperation doesn’t mean it has no existence: the anorexic has no desire to eat yet his nature has a need for nourishment. The unbeliever may feel happy, may have an optimistic outlook on life, but, like the miser or anorexic, it’s all a façade—his joy is not yet full. Those knowing only one side of the pursuit of happiness, pursuing lower goods, are potentially blind to the fact that they do not know the higher are higher, and it is only by leaving the lower that they can in fact know this. As Mill said, “…if the fool…(is) of a different opinion, it is because (he) only know(s) (his) own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” Consider the power hungry rich man, he is a mad man, full of delusions about himself. He may say he’s satisfied, as one in a dream may be, but if woken of his delusion and given the quality of a good life, he would, like the person who is happy in the waking world though woken from a happy dream, choose the self evident, truly happy reality. It is the common consent of History, and most especially History’s Saints, to which we must turn if we want, in general, a working order of what notes to play along the scale of life in order to live harmoniously.
Second, the facade of happiness without supernatural hope can be made most apparent by the fact that the unbeliever immediately views the question selfishly, in terms of himself and what he feels, not in terms of the needs of his neighbor—terms in which, by the way, we can see through our own forms of spiritual anorexia; terms in which we catch a fuller reflection, in man at large, of our own common needs as individual human beings. Without humility how can we know what we cannot presently feel? It is the selfish, the elite, the prigs who look down upon their neighbors and the family history of man; it is the narrow intellectuals who have contempt for this common need which drives even atheists (see the Russell quote above), and which prevents the “good” person from calling himself truly good: true love must take this ultimate need into account.
It is, therefore, neither the distinction of happiness and tragedy, nor the distinction of happiness and neurosis, which parts the seas of incomplete and complete understandings of "love;" it is the further distinction between breathing the happiness of Hope and leaving our spiritual lungs to atrophy-in ourselves and others-which ultimately necessitates this contrast.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.- G. K. Chesterton
God, to be God, must transcend what is. He must be the maker of what ought to be.- Rufus M. Jones
No man hates God without first hating himself.- Fulton J. Sheen
We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.- General Omar N. Bradley
*(A Quote Constellation© is a series of quotes, ideally five or seven brief quotes, which connect in descending order to outline and suggest a fuller, substantial theme, picture or point.)
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The logical conclusion is absurd in itself, at least if one lives according to what is most valuable in life. Here's an illustration:
Little Bobby atheist: "Mommy, we read in school today about the holocaust. I felt sick to my stomach."
Mommy atheist: "Yes Bobby, sometimes what humans do to other humans makes us feel that way."
LBA: "Well, why do I feel that way?"
MA: "Because you don't want that done to you."
LBA: "Not because it's wrong?"
MA: "Right and wrong are dead concepts, the thought you have is nothing but the rotten stench of a dead God which is finally wafting from our culture."
LBA: "But I feel it's wrong."
MA: "You may feel it's wrong, that's ok, but it is not wrong."
LBA: "Do you feel it's wrong, mommy?"
MA: "Yes, but I know it's not."
LBA: "Then it's really not, even though I feel it is?"
MA: "Well, yes."
LBA: "Are these feelings good to have?"
MA: "Yes, they help us get along in society."
LBA: "But you said good was a feeling."
MA: "Indeed, I should have said it's not good, but I feel it is."
LBA: "So should I do whatever I feel?"
MA: "Well, yes, I suppose so."
LBA: "Didn't the Nazi's do whatever they felt like doing?"
MA: "Well… yes… I suppose so."
LBA: "So my feelings are an illusion then, mommy."
MA: "Why do you say that son?"
LBA: "Because I feel killing Jews is wrong but the Nazi's felt it was right."
MA: "Go on."
LBA: "But there's no way to judge which I should feel."
MA: "Our philosophers taught us long ago: "ought" and "should" have no place in our vocabulary."
LBA: "What if I feel God exists?"
MA: "You should not… well… I mean… you may feel that way but it's not true."
LBA: "Do you feel that way?"
MA: "Certainly not!"
LBA: "Then you feel God does not exist?"
LBA: "And you believe that's really true?"
MA: "Yes, my feelings correspond to reality."
LBA: "So you can feel something that is really true, and feel something that is really not?"
MA: "Yes, but only about matters of fact, not about matters of a prescriptive nature, matters that have to do with "ought."
LBA: "If God is not real then I don't want to feel that He is."
MA: "I feel that's noble, son."
LBA: "So I'm going to practice doing what I feel is wrong."
MA: "Hmm… why?"
LBA: "So I can control my feelings better, make them go away."
MA: "What do you have in mind?"
LBA: "I feel that hurting Jewish people is wrong. My friend Irwin is a Jew. Tomorrow I am going to punch his teeth out."
MA: "You mustn't do that son!"
LBA: "Why mom? You said prescriptive statements like "must not" have no place in our vocabulary."
MA: "Bobby, if you do not want to be punished by the authorities then do not punch Irwin tomorrow."
LBA: "But you say you feel it's bad to do things because of the threat of punishment. That's why you don't believe in hell - it's just a form of manipulation."
MA: "I don't believe hell is real, that is why I feel it's bad to use as a tool for controlling people."
LBA: "So it's only because the threat of authority is real that I should not punch Irwin?"
MA: "Partly. I also feel it's wrong."
LBA: "But your feeling doesn't correspond to reality."
LBA: "And I want my feelings to more closely correspond to reality, so I do not want to feel what you feel because your feelings about punching Irwin do not correspond to reality."
MA: "I will punish you Bobby."
LBA: "You will act based on an illusion, mommy. If I don't act because you threatened me, then I am practicing acting on feelings which don't correspond to reality."
MA: "Ok, I can play that game Bobby. So you're going to act on what you feel about your feelings corresponding to reality?"
MA: "Why should you?"
LBA: "Should is an illusion, like God. So mommy, why shouldn't I?"
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Science is respectable, it gets results, and coherently "saves the appearances," attempting to give a "logical explanation of observable phenomena." It's essentially a realist endeavor, that is, it starts with the senses and the outside world of the senses, then concludes in intellectual constructs which represent the reality behind those appearances. In short, it follows experience. Science is therefore respectable in the minds of most people, at least most westernized people.
Philosophy, however, means phantasy and triviality to most modern minds. Any discussion of philosophy quickly degenerates into talk of how one knows he exists, or a world exists, or whether 2+2 can equal 5. Since Descartes, philosophy has descended to this low point, precisely because philosophy up to that point was engaged in attempts to "save the appearances, to "follow experience," all the while assuming what needed to be assumed in order to know anything at all. But then philosophy became turned in upon itself, became engaged in questioning the very basis of questioning, which meant arbitrarily picking one's starting point in order to philosophize -- as did Descartes -- rather than beginning with reality as it is, as we are caught up in the flow of experience, as we ride upon the stream of self-evidence: unquestionable givens from which all knowledge proceeds. Let us therefore continue in the line of the perennial philosophy, which is identical to science in it's method, in it's starting point -- a method which no other philosophy can really claim to share. And let us call this philosophy realism, as opposed to the various types of empiricism and idealism -- empiricism says science deals with your own sensations, not with a reality outside of your senses; idealism says your dealing with your own ideas, not with objects outside your mind -- on a large psychological scale, these bring death to the motive behind doing science, they "numb the will," kill the wonder found in dealing with a mysterious world outside of our own minds.
Let us therefore understand the philosophical method as interchangeable with the scientific method, providing structure, common sense, and realism to the term philosophy -- stripping it of it's irrelevant, wildly speculative, phantastical connotations -- though focusing on a different aspect of reality to which certain minds find the logic of the universe demanding an answer.
And what are some of these questions the universe asks us to explore? some of the inherent problems it poses?
If the history of philosophy is any indication, it can be best put this way: things change. That is, there's relative permanence, as well as change. For instance, I was once a child and am now an adult. Part of me, part of my “I”, has not itself changed throughout the process of time which has seen part of me change. The same can be said of any natural object, “from the atom up to the most highly organized of living bodies and the most exalted of finite minds.” The undeniable fact of permanence through change should guide any sane philosophical hypothesis.
From this facts a number of arguments can be made. I'll briefly introduce two.
1. The contingency of the universe depends upon a non-contingent factor. That is, the "cosmos is only one of a number of possible universes," which means that since it "can be otherwise (it) is capable of not being at all." If it is capable of not being at all, then it needs to find it's existence in something already and always existing, which is not capable of not being at all. This argument does not require a creator at the beginning of time, we can presume time stretches back to forever, but one who creates every single moment. This means, of course, that if He stopped creating then the universe would vanish into nothingness.
2. The steady existence or pattern of things. This is sometimes considered the argument from design, but that argument is usually superficial, the one I have in mind is not so, if one can really comprehend it's impact. Let me give an argument against the argument from design by William James in order to illustrate it's deeper aspect -- an aspect which will then refute Jame's argument against a superficial argument from design.
It must not be forgotten that any form of disorder in the world might, by the design argument, suggest a God for just that kind of disorder. The truth is that any state of things whatever that can be named is logically susceptible of teleological interpretation. The ruins of the earthquake at Lisbon, for example: the whole of past history had to be planned exactly as it was to bring about in the fullness of time just that particular arrangement of debris of masonry, furniture, and once living bodies. No other train of causes would have been sufficient. And so of any other arrangement, bad or good, which might as a matter of fact be found resulting anywhere from previous conditions. To avoid such pessimistic consequences and save it's beneficent designer, the design argument accordingly invokes two other principles, restrictive in their operation. The first is physical: Nature's forces tend of their own accord only to disorder and destruction, to heaps of ruins, not to architecture. This principle, though plausible at first sight, seems, in light of recent biology, to be more and more improbable. The second principle is one of anthropomorphic interpretation. No arrangement that for us is 'disorderly' can possibly have been an object of design at all. This principle is of course a mere assumption in the interests of anthropomorphic Theism.
When one views the world with no definite theological bias one way or the other, one sees that order and disorder, as we now recognize them, are purely human inventions....the world...is overflowing with disorderly arrangements from our point of view, but order is the only thing we care for and look at, and by choosing one can always find some sort of orderly arrangement in the midst of any chaos. If I should throw down a thousand beans at random upon a table, I could doubtless, by eliminating a sufficient number of them, leave the rest in any geometrical pattern you might propose to me, and you might say that that pattern was the thing prefigured beforehand, and that the other beans were mere irrelevance...Our dealings with nature is just like this...The facts of order...are thus easily susceptible of interpretation as arbitrary human products...the argument...will be convincing only to those who on other grounds believe in him already." http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/vre/vre14.htm#fn_290
What I suggest in order to rebut this line of reasoning we may coin The Kaleidoscope Argument©. First let's examine where James is correct, then the two main fallacies he falls into from there. He is correct in noting, to a point, that order can be read into the universe, that no matter what events take place we can view them as orderly. The earthquake example is very well put. But then he makes two huge blunders, both stemming from the assertion that "(o)ur dealings with nature are just like this." The first error is the idealist implication that the substantial unities that meet us in nature are imposed on nature -- that is, that a tree, a dog, a man are patterns our minds impose upon the "beans" of reality, just like we impose geometrical shapes upon his spilled beans. It's all a subjective reading according to this conclusion. The second is failing to note that the deeper design, or intelligibility found in the substances of reality -- the trees, rocks, dogs and men -- is the basis of understanding anything at all, and these things which form the events which we artificially impose order upon (for example the history of events leading up to the earthquake) exist in time based on an orderly, consistent pattern. Otherwise reality could not be understandable, it would be a Kaleidoscope of substances in constant flux -- rocks appearing, turning into water, then metal, then air -- our rationality could never then be stirred to action -- our (momentary) bodies, of course, would be subject as well to this unintelligible flux, so even if we had a mind unable to be stirred to rationality, it's body could not exist long enough anyway. Thus design is the order, or pattern by which things exist -- in other words, the universe is understandable because a Mind imposes order upon it by which our minds are then stirred to rationality.
The two arguments I’ve presented can only be skirted by falling into implications that lead us directly to the philosophical realms of empiricism and idealism, and therefore have every practical right to be rejected as untenable. Ordinarily speaking, no sane person rejects science – at least not the obvious and established facts of science -- so that keeping our philosophical reasoning aligned with the scientific method (thus preventing us from the whimsical craziness so often associated with philosophy) logically raises the aforementioned philosophical proofs for God’s existence (if the reasoning is sound) to the same level of certainty as our scientific and practical convictions.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I’ll steal once again from Lewis, and take his illustration of a beam of light in a dark shed: If we step into our shed, we can look AT the beam and see a ray of light streaming by us. However, we can also step into the ray and look ALONG the beam as we look AT blue sky, waving trees and green leaves outside the shed. Likewise, we can say the experience of knowing is a looking ALONG affections, perceptions and concepts AT given objects. This means, however, that – assuming we’re conscious -- every time we step out of a “beam” we are stepping into another, and that, by the mental equivalent of a sleight of hand we can forget, ignore or mistake the fact that we are knowing for the known; or, to square with our illustration, we can neglect the beam of light along which we see -- solely for the trees.
There’s a relevant application of this observation to atheism, and any type of naturalism; for I think the current atheism/naturalism which is gaining some minor popularity is the offspring of a rotten philosophical heritage which, by the same mental slight of hand, insists that because it cannot see it’s own eyes, then it simply won’t believe that eyes exist; consequently it’s focus neglects the inner reality of our conscious existence and, at best, only allows this reality in so far as it looks AT the world it wants to see. It’s a remarkable irony that atheist “humanists” are far less impressed by the nature of humans than certain religious theists, who hold that man is actually fallen from his original stature and is in dire need of God to save him: It seems that when man is not made in the image of God, he is not even perceived in the image of man; when man has not fallen from the image of God, he falls, instead, from the image of man.
Much recent science tells us what realist philosophers have long maintained: that the universe is not spatially infinite, nor infinite in time. The universe outside our minds, though vast and enormously beautiful and intriguing, does not possess the ultimate property that our minds which grasp, that is, encompass, the universe actually do. The universe is not infinite, yet our minds, which possess the idea, in some way exceed its finitude. Therefore, we can really speak of two universes; and though it’s proper to speak of a universe outside our minds, it is not precisely correct to speak of that second universe inside our minds; it’s accurate, rather, to call it the universe of our minds. The outside universe -- the object seen through the lens of, say, the science of astronomy, with it’s beautiful nebula, like colorful cobwebs scattered about the farthest corners of unnamed galaxies; and with it’s curious ability to capture the past and brand it into the heavens even for the naked eye to behold; that wonderful, awe inspiring universe is truly remarkable – yet that universe with all it’s glory and majesty remains incomparable, a non-rival, to the miracle of the human mind. Indeed, for, unlike the universe of the mind, that universe has yet to birth a single concept by which it can grasp itself. Further, the human mind, with it’s ability to conceive a universal idea within it’s mystical and immaterial womb thus reveals the additional capacity to furnish a higher point of reference for the grammar of “spiritual realities” over and above the limited vocabulary to which the materialist would confine us -- though we must be leery of a new occasion inviting us to the opposite error -- idealism.
We may have long ago abandoned Plato and his theory of Forms, which posits universals shining above the sense world in some immaterial realm, and which, he maintained, are the actual knowledge of each individual mind; but is it any less miraculous and threatening to the materialist for us to note that each individual mind is furnished with it’s own immaterial, universal forms, thus a vast multitude of minds -- that is, a vast multitude of immaterial realms, “shines” above the spatiotemporal sense world? Perhaps not, perhaps we’ll be granted so much; even so, it may be asked, isn’t it ultimately just an academic exercise to insist we keep within our purview experienced and verifiable facts like, for instance, the fact that our minds contain concepts which are infinite (universal), yet which we know vary from each other -- like a triangle and a square? Why do such observations, along with other such concepts as the permanent “I” of Kant, and even the discovery of an (immaterial) intellectual stratosphere as inescapably ablaze with the idea of God as the land of the never-setting sun with light; why does the beam of light I’m asking us to step out of and examine, which includes these and other vast implications, have any practical importance for us? Or, to phrase it conversely, why is the true academic exercise the one taken up by the view, be it atheist or not, which steps into (what I somewhat hesitate to call) the epistemological light and pretends to forget all of its properties, including its very existence?