Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Anglo-Catholic Salvation

I think it would be helpful to stress a distinction regarding salvation so that the non-Sacramental Protestant is clear that there is an agreement on a most essential point. This distinction is merely that of the Biblical paradox: "work out your salvation...for it is the Lord working in you." St. Bernard has beautifully expanded upon this, "grace is necessary to salvation, free will equally so -- but grace in order to give salvation, free will in order to receive it. Therefore we should not attribute part of the good to grace and part to free will; it is performed in its entirety by the common and inseparable action of both; entirely by grace, entirely by free will, but springing from the first in the second."

The official position of any Christian church of the Sacramental Tradition -- Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Orthodox, etc. -- is that without grace, that is, without Christ's life, death, and resurrection, there would be no access to Heaven -- there would be no "first springing in the second." To put it another way, the door to the Father would be forever closed, the gulf forever impassible, if not for Christ -- this all churches hold as necessary to believe. This means, therefore, that no church preaches that "works" merit us Heavenly access -- only Christ won access for us. We are not, however, automatons -- we are not robots into whom God programs "grace". Indeed, God grants us the dignity of choosing, of participating in the grace He offers to us. There are, therefore, things given to us to do in order to appropriate this gift of grace, in order to make it effective in our lives. To put it plainly, we are to obey, and obedience requires faith -- faith is implicit, it's presupposed in any act of obedience: a faith without works is dead. Thus faith and obedience are inseparable.

Given the context of Sacramental Christianity, a faith which leads to works means that to trust that Christ has instituted Baptism to erase Original Sin, and that good works (found, primarily, in the Sermon on the Mount) and the other Sacraments are how His grace operates in us -- how we enter the door only Christ could open -- is not to say we get to Heaven by our own effort on our own merit. Obeying Christ in this way is merely to be consistent with the preservation of both sides of the Biblical paradox mentioned earlier. To ignore one side in favor of the other is to end in a disastrous conclusion -- either way. The Sacramental Tradition is thus both Biblical and reasonable, it just professes that Christ’s grace works, though in essence through faith and obedience – never the less through a faith and obedience which are manifested in a different way than that of the Protestant.

Despite theological disagreements, it is my hope that we can all agree that Christ's life, death, and resurrection unite us as common believers; that this essential belief unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

(A Version Of) The Cosmological Argument

Ultimately a denial of the "Cosmological Argument" entails either 1.) a denial of one or both undeniable premises by which we know anything at all and by which we actually live, or 2.) a denial of the conclusion(s), which simply combine(s) these premises.

1. A thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same way - a thing is or is not (principle of non-contradiction). Simplified: If a thing exists it doesn't not exist.

2. Existing things change - things have potential to be or not be.

3. A thing which has potential, which can be or not be at a particular moment, a.) cannot determine itself to be or not be at a particular moment (or it is violating premise 1, both being and not being at the same time in the same way); it cannot choose it's own path, therefore something must determine it to be or not be or it hasn't been determined-which we know it has; b.) cannot be determined by nothing, for if nothing determined it, then it's the nature of nothing to make determinations; if nothing has a nature, then it's something, and something has determined it--that something must have no potential, it cannot not be; and c.) cannot be determined by another thing with potential, for at the same moment that thing also needs determination.

Additional Conclusion from 3:

4. The universe (a collection of things with potential) can be or not be at a particular moment, therefore it is determined by something which cannot not be (God is the name we give to a being which cannot not be).


1. A thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same way - a thing is or is not (principle of non-contradiction). Simplified: If a thing exists it doesn't not exist.

2. Existing things change - things have potential to be or not be.

3. A thing which has potential, which can be or not be at a particular moment, needs a cause to determine whether it will be or not be *.

4. The cause itself (from #3) must not have potential to be or not be, otherwise it’s in the same undetermined state needing to be caused and cannot cause anything.

5. Since every thing with potential existing at a given moment (the universe) can be or not be, then everything (the universe) with potential to be or not be needs a cause at every moment of it’s existence.

6. Something exists which cannot not be, as the cause of existing things which change -- the universe.

*Something is self-evident when it’s opposite cannot be conceived. “Something which changes needs a cause”—this is self evident because it’s opposite -- nothing can cause something -- means the nature of nothing is to cause something, which is another way of saying nothing is something (we have to conceive of nothing as something (it’s nature is to cause)). Therefore we cannot conceive of nothing causing something without admitting it’s something. Thus it’s self evident that “things which change need a cause.”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Defining "God"

I often find that in discussions about God, the concept of God is treated as if it’s an arbitrary mental construction; it’s treated as if it’s made up, imaginary. So, when it’s posited by the theist (a theist believes in a God who is, in part, known by revelation) it’s assumed, by the non-theist (I use this word to mean both agnostic and atheist), that it’s just an imaginary concept used to fill in various gaps in our knowledge, gaps which could be replaced just as arbitrarily -- which is to say equally as likely -- by the concept of the flying spaghetti monster, or the polka dotted magical unicorn, or any number of various absurdities.

Speaking for myself, if it were an arbitrary, imaginary concept, then the non-theist’s point would appear quite valid -- I would consequently find the position of the theist to be nothing but an unlikely guess. However, the theist does not give meaning to the word “God” from his own imagination; instead, the classical theist (i.e., Christian and Judaist) derives it from both reason and revelation – the deist from reason only, and, incidentally, the Muslim from revelation only. Now, non-theists regard revelation as imaginary, so the only common ground left between they and the theist is reason.

Reason, of course, must deal with facts, so it is only the facts with which our senses come into contact, and the realm of reason itself, that reason has to use. Thus, according to the theist the word “God” derives it’s meaning from the laws of being, of things we perceive through our senses and know through our intellects; these “things” reveal a separate, primordial ground of existence with a number of definable attributes – this we theists call “God.” It is this definition (or some vague intuition most common persons have of it) that impregnates the word “God” with meaning.

So it is out of the depths of reality itself that the meaning of the word “God,” for classical theists, is derived; to this extent the word “God” is an intellectual construct, not an imaginary idea. The difference is like that between the intellectual construct of a black hole, and the imaginary construct of Santa Clause. People, like Richard Dawkins, simply disregard the fact that “God” is a term which is also a conclusion of rational insight – like a black hole --; they are simply unaware of that fact, or they ignore it (someone like Dawkins, who speaks of Aquinas, should be aware of such a fact). When such people compare God to some made up, imaginary absurdity, it is like saying a black hole can have the properties of the sacred purple buffalo. Who could take such a person seriously? The next question is, what are the facts which lead to this “conclusion of rational insight,” and can they be put into layman’s terms? I’ll try to answer both questions simultaneously.


All knowledge originates from our senses -- to be more accurate, *through* our senses. Our senses come into contact with a three-dimensional spatial world, and our intellects provide us universal concepts through which we know about that world, through which we interpret the data of our senses. Now, it’s quite clear to our reason that we do not touch or taste or hear or smell or see God. We do not sense God. What do we sense? We sense physical objects, things. We sense rocks and trees and grass and dogs and people and stars and, though aided, we sense things like microorganisms and galaxies as well. So, we know we sense *things,* and we know we sense different kinds of things. However, though we sense different kinds of things we know something important about all of them: they all have being, or existence. Indeed, and we can say about existence that it exists in different ways. Joseph Conti points out that existence can be horsey, or evergreeny, or elmy, or sparrowy, or… you name it. The way things exist is called their “essence.” So things exist in different ways, they are limited existences, or existence limited. We know that a horse is not a bird, and that neither are human beings; we know that existence is limited, here, to a horse essence, a bird essence, and a human essence. But is there something that is pure existence without limitation? In other words, is there a being whose essence is existence? Well, taking what we know is common to each and every thing, namely, existence, we can investigate it’s properties and come to the grandest, most noble conclusion of human reason: God, the being whose essence is existence, exists! Or, as was revealed to Moses, I AM WHO AM (the being whose essence is existence), actually is.

First, we have to get it clear in our minds that proving God as the cause of the universe does not mean that He is moving along in time like we are, it does not mean that He ignited, so to speak, the Big Bang and then moved along in time as it progressed. What it does is look at any given moment in time, including the moment of the Big Bang itself, and finds that limited existences, things, need to be caused to exist at every moment. It doesn’t look backwards towards the beginning of time, it rather looks deep into the heart of every moment of time. We normally think of causes coming before their effects. A bowling ball, for instance, rolls down the lane and then crashes into the pins. Some people think of the proof for God as First Cause as something similar to the bowler who tossed the ball, as coming before the effect in time. They picture God doing something like winding up and tossing the ball. In this picture God is seen as moving along in time with the rest of the effects. But this picture is false. There’s another way to conceive of a cause, and that is, not coming before something in time, but coming before it logically, yet at the same moment. I’m going to steel an analogy from C.S. Lewis to explain this type of cause. Imagine two books on a desk, one with a red cover, one with a green cover. Now imagine that the book with the red cover is resting on the book with the green cover. The book with the green cover is causing the book with the red cover to rest about an inch from the desk. If this had been happening forever, without a beginning, the green book would still be causing the effect without ever coming before it in time. The cause does not come before the effect in time, only in logic. So, we have two things to remember regarding the proof that I will demonstrate. The first is that we are looking into the moments we experience as the present, not at the beginning of time. The second is that some causes come before their effects in logic, not time.

What I’m about to (attempt to) demonstrate is called the Cosmological Argument, it is an argument from the nature of the cosmos that we experience; it comes after experience and is therefore called, in fancy terms, a-posteriori. It was argued as far back as three-thousand years ago by Aristotle, right around the time Moses had a direct experience, or intuition, which brought forth to his mind, without discursive reasoning (that is, without stringing together premises in logical steps to produce a conclusion), the existence of a being called “I AM,” which is conceptually indistinguishable from Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. This argument is deductive, not inductive, so it starts from a universal and undeniable premise, moves to a second premise, the data of the senses, and eventually draws a conclusion based on these two major premises; it is a scientific proof in this regard. It is interesting to note that no philosopher, at least of relevance, has attacked this proof on it’s own grounds – they cannot. Instead they essentially deny science by either attacking reality itself, or our ability to know it. The scientist content to deal in science doesn’t worry himself about these absurd philosophies for he continues to get results, a fact which makes them completely irrelevant to him. Incidentally there are two types of results which come from accepting God’s existence as a rational conclusion. The first is that it gets us thinking as realists, which scientists are in practice, and which has important implications in the realm of ethics, of natural law. The second is that, for the theist at least, the results which make such philosophies irrelevant are the effects not in the world of descriptive facts with which science deals, but in the world of prescriptive facts with which our desires deal. In other words the quality of life the belief produces as an effect is it’s own justification and equally, if not more importantly, makes the skeptical philosophies as irrelevant to the believer as they are to the scientist.


So, let’s take a look at this proof. We’ve already said that existence is shared by all things; what’s of note to us is that the one thing which existence gives to our minds is the first principle of knowledge: a thing that is, is; it cannot be and not be in the same way at the same time. This is called the principle of non-contradiction. G.K. Chesterton referred to it as the shadow following reality, it cannot be escaped. The second premise is that the cosmos, the world of our senses, is a collection of changing things – things moving, or changing, in time. These things, as we said, are types of existence, they are existence limited to specific essences. Another aspect of a limitation of existence, of a limited thing, is that it doesn’t have it’s reason for existence in itself, in other words, it doesn’t have to exist at the particular moment it does exist. We know this just by reflecting on possibilities. An atom which exists at a particular date and time could have been split at that particular date and time. You, as a human existence, could have never existed if the conditions that came together to produce your existence were slightly altered. We know, by the existence of free will – without which we cannot say we know anything, it’s a condition of rational knowledge – that conditions can be altered. We also know, by scientific research, that chance plays a role in evolution as well as particle physics; so, again, conditions can be altered. Therefore all limited things which exist at the same moment need, at that moment, something which is not limited, and which must exist in order to make them exist at that moment and all moments of their existence. Such an existence is an unchanging cause of the cosmos, is the I AM -- is what we call “God.”

Now, this proof may become more clear by looking at what results from denying it. So, what would result from denying it? Either 1.) that the principle of non-contradiction does not hold, or 2.) that the cosmos isn’t a collection of limited existences, or 3.) that limited things couldn’t be otherwise (there is no free-will, chance or potential), or 4.) that an unlimited existence, God, isn’t a necessary conclusion from the combination of 1,2, and 3, or 5.) some combination of 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Regarding number one, the principle of non-contradiction is self-evident and cannot be denied. This means we know that a thing cannot cause itself to exist, for it would be and not be at the same time in the same way. Regarding number two, the cosmos: well, it IS a collection of limited existences – that’s what a cosmos is, that’s how we know it exists. Regarding number three, if we deny that things can be otherwise then we deny free-will, chance, and we deny that things have potential; admitting just one of these things is fatal to our denial, and means we cannot deny it. So must we admit any of them? Well, free-will must exist or we are not free to know anything according to ground-consequent logic; chance is a scientific truth beyond a reasonable doubt; and potential is seen in the fact that a thing is a limited existence, which could have more existence -- in other words, there’s no reason why the toad you see hopping along could not be a rabbit instead. Something determined existence to exist as a toad, the toad you see, and nothing else; the series of logically prior causes, of simultaneous causes, which make up a moment must end in an unlimited existence – with no potential – which determines the existences of that moment, and all moments. This leads us to number four. Why must we admit that an unlimited existence is necessary? Because a.) the thing itself cannot cause itself, b.) another thing which itself is limited and needs caused at the same time cannot cause it, c.) it cannot be caused by nothing, for then it would be the nature of nothing to cause something, and only something can have a nature, which would make nothing something – either limited (b) or unlimited (d), d.) no other possible option remains except an unlimited existence, one with no potential. Therefore, God exists.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Equal Rights?

The meaning of the equality of man is pivotal to any consideration of specific human rights, and with good precedent; its theme is a golden thread running through the American fabric, stitched over time by an unforgettable line of successors. The Framers “embalmed” the equality truth in The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln hallowed it in his Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King Jr. reclaimed it in his I Have a Dream speech; in addition, the Constitution backs it with the consent of the governed and the full force of law -- specifically with the Fourteenth Amendment.

Many are keen to point out that equality is a status given to us by law, that we are “equal before the law.” In a certain and important sense this observation is correct; but the more important question is from what does the legal status of its truth derive? Is the Fourteenth Amendment solely a type of contract, or does it stem from immutable and inalienable rights? Is it something we grant only if we want, by some legal fiction, or something we ought to grant no matter what?

It is a sad fact that the truth “all men are created equal” was slow in developing its practical significance, but it is no less true for that reason. Lincoln wrote, “The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration not for that but for its future use.” Unfortunately, however, the phrase “all men are created equal” has not maintained the meaning it had for Lincoln; nor has the Declaration's mutually important phrase “the pursuit of happiness.”

The Founding Fathers and their more immediate posterity, like Lincoln, were schooled in the tenets and animated by the spirit of the Perennial Philosophy; thus we can take the words of Boethius, summing up Plato and Aristotle, to exemplify what they understood to be the meaning of this particular tenet, [happiness is] “a life made perfect by the possession in aggregate of all good things."

It should be clear, on any account, that the conception of happiness found in the Declaration assumes no possible conflict between various pursuits of happiness, it assumes a common goal, or good, for everyone, which includes the potential happiness of everyone else. Naturally, this leads us to inquire about the meaning of equality, and the more specific nature of happiness.

To begin with an analogy, simply consider different types of triangles. Though different, each triangle we imagine yet shares the same essential nature with every other triangle. Therefore, if we 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 we put it that way it would make perfect sense to talk about equality.

In the same way, when we talk about man and the equality of man we are talking about man's essential nature. Thomas Aquinas observed that in addition to our fundamental desire for happiness, mankind has basic and essential needs for self-preservation, procreation, community and rationality. The Declaration, as noted, assumes a common goal; the fundamental human needs Aquinas lists are simply the properties of our common goal. To demonstrate this simply ask, can the common good, human happiness, be reached without the existence of human inclinations to preserve themselves, procreate, unite in community, and grow in moral and intellectual virtues?

Our fundamental equality, rooted in our nature as rational beings, inescapably binds us to the common good. Therefore, given the context of the aim of the common good, we understand that equality before the law is rooted in nature, not whim. In addition, we have a standard by which to judge particular claims to equal rights. For example, heterosexual marriage is an equal good, good for all; it is established in a natural need of the common good, thus its “special treatment” is consistent with the equality principle – the government merely recognizes it as a natural need and promotes its importance. Conversely, if the government were to sanction homosexual marriage it would be fabricating a right not in accord with the equality principle. In doing so, it would depart from natural law and effectively invoke the principle of chaos, whim, tyranny: might makes right.