Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Atheists On The Old Testament...

Recently, on Dinesh D'Souza's blog, some anti-Christians were throwing around verses from the Old Testament -- like dashing babies against rocks -- and insisting that we have to interpret them the way they want us to. Now, any knowledgeable Christian is going to understand the basic principle that we interpret the Old in light of the New, that is, through the lens of Jesus Christ. Further, we, at least we Catholics, don't abandon the Preambles to Faith, which are rationally based prefaces that, in logic, precede faith -- yes, they're called "preambles" for a reason! Anyway, I tried to impress upon them that, like any field of knowledge, you start with first principles, which you have to keep before your mind, which you cannot violate -- this, of course, takes intellectual discipline, which many people just don't have. Now, these particular people also happened to be subjectivists, which made their insistence that we interpret such verses the way they want us to all the more absurd. Here's the reason I gave them:

"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.'"

"I'll tell you why understanding all of this is important to me. First, you will not understand where people, theists who are like me, are really coming from [on interpreting atrocities in the Old Testament] unless you understand this basic idea, which I grant is often just a vague intuition in some theist's minds. You see, I admit the problem of morality in certain Biblical passages is a real one, but that is because I believe morality is a real reflection of reality. That is, I believe there IS inherent worth to an individual -- not that I project it on someone if I want to. As soon as [any subjectivist] starts attacking anything the Bible says or that Christians have done, I hear the logical echo attending their words "but nothing is really right or wrong", and their criticisms find no sympathy with me for they want to share a common ground which they've already denied a basis in reality -- in truth."

"Let's put this all into perspective. 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." Isn't that a shock to your humanity? So, no matter how worked up a given subjectivist gets about a Biblical passage, no matter how morally outraged they appear to be, the cold, inescapable logic completes their every outburst with "but it's not really wrong" -- and I can hardly take them seriously."

There are various things to keep in mind when considering the Old Testament, like Midrash, like the difference between inspiration and revelation, like the fact that God and some of His perfections can be known through reason (thus anthropomorphisms are not to be taken literally), and, also, like Jesus was the perfect revelation of God, and his Church through the Holy Spirit (and by Christ's authority) can decipher certain dogmas from mythological imagery like Genesis; but none of these things (and others), which are necessary to keep before our minds while considering the question, will make any difference to one who doesn't really want to hear you...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Christianity In Terms Of Odds?

...Only as an intellectual proposition detached from reality, that is, unsupportable by evidence. However, Christianity does not claim to appeal to a detached intellect, as if all we know are ideas, but to the full person who has, in addition to an intellect, both a will, as well as bodily senses. Therefore, I can think of at least three things to say:

1.) it is from the data of the senses that the rational proof for God's existence are employed in what's called the Cosmological Argument -- it proceeds from experience. Here, in the C.A., God's existence and perfections are arrived at through our physical grounding (senses) in the physical universe (physical objects of senses) -- God's existence is a proposition attached to reality (Catholicism says rational proofs for God's existence are "preambles to faith", thus assuring the necessity of reason in religion), and;

2.) there's the will: As George Brantl eloquently said, “It is only in the waiting, thirsting spirit that revelation can find a reply”; thus, "Christianity," says C.S. Lewis, "is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law… [i]t offers forgiveness for having broken, and supernatural help towards keeping, that law." In other words, Jesus Christ speaks to an essential need of our human nature, which only God can meet, and which takes us to the third point;

3.) the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ, who was crucified for claiming to be God, combines one and two, and leaves us with a personal choice, a choice of trust, which cannot be quantified in terms of odds. Since it concerns our will, and choice, it would be like, as Peter Kreeft said, "Suppose you hear reports that your house is on fire and your children are inside. You do not know whether the reports are true or false. What is the reasonable thing to do—to ignore them or to take the time to run home or at least phone home just in case the reports are true?" ( )

Chapter Two: The Temptations Of Jesus


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Problem Of Pain -- A Submitted Amazon Review

Pay No Attention To The Humbugs Behind The Curtain
Lewis believed we should try to enter into the meaning, the intent of the authors we read, instead of bringing our own biases and immediately subjecting them to our own categories of thought. We cannot help but enrich our minds if "in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself." Therefore, if you’ve stumbled upon this book for whatever reason and feel inclined to read it then I’d urge -- pay no attention to the humbug critics, at least until after you’ve read what could be a life enriching book, as this was for me.

Ten years ago I began reading Lewis; the Problem of Pain was one of the first of his works, after Mere Christianity, I picked up. It wasn’t long after I read PoP that I was watching Schindler’s List. Scene by scene, the dilemma of evil in the face of a good God assaulted me till I was overcome with intense and sickening violence. I ended up falling to the ground, in anguish, crying “how”? I received no blinding insight, I’m sorry to say, into the mystery of evil; but Lewis’ logic had infected me, and suddenly an argument took hold of my mind, checked my despair, and gave me something to hold onto (incidentally, those critics who, in reading Lewis have immediately subjected him to their atheist framework have a-priori cut themselves off from understanding the ultimate logic of their own position – or they just don’t care, which is far worse).

The argument, in so many words, ran something like this: the proposition that God doesn’t exist amounts, at the same time, to the proposition that all this anguish at the injustice unfolding before me on my TV screen is not rooted in reality, that it’s all a purely subjective illusion, which reflects no eternal value, goodness or justice, and, logically, could just as well be delight and approval. In other words, the extent I thought evil truly evil and wrong – that was the extent to which I had to believe in a good God; to deny Him would be, at the same time, a denial of the reality of evil, which was driving me to deny Him in the first place. I simply refused to concede that the Nazis, slaughtering Jews, were no more morally culpable than if they were involuntarily swatting mosquitoes.

Many people are keen to respond something along these lines, “well, I personally feel this or that is wrong,” and seriously think they’ve resolved the matter. However, this “line” has a shocking corollary, which runs thusly: “…but it is not really wrong”. In it’s blunt, down to earth form, and applied to my experience above, it looks like this: “I feel the Nazi’s were wrong, but I cannot speak for them and say they were wrong, because they were not REALLY wrong.” When the mind reflects objective reality it has truth; if my mind isn’t reflecting the eternal reality of value, goodness, and justice, then my gut reactions and intense emotions are a response to nothing in reality, to no quality innate to human beings, which categorically warrants such a reaction – they’re a fictional response, a response to a pretended reality. We all know, deep down inside, that this cannot be true, and that evil really exists because there’s an eternal standard of goodness (God) by which to identify evil as evil…

Read this book – make your own judgments…

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Lay Witness Talk (last Sunday at Mass)

Good morning, my name is Jesse... I've been a member of St. Mary parish now for a couple years, and serve as a Eucharistic Minister to the Homebound. The Parish Committee, along with Father..., has asked me to speak a little about my own conversion to a "Stewardship Way of Life," a way of life in which one tries more and more to give of one's "time, talent and treasure" in the service of God and neighbor.

I’d like to begin with some background. I began to follow Christ at an early age in the Protestant, Evangelical tradition; a tradition in which I was baptized and to which I'm greatly indebted for helping nurture my relationship with Christ. Years later, I became attracted to the Quaker understanding of God's relationship with man. However, as a devoted student of authors like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, it was only a matter of time before the sacredness of matter, and it's importance in theology and ethics, became an additional truth which I had to accept; thus I joined the more sacramental Episcopal Church. Finally, for a multitude of converging reasons, I was confirmed Catholic on April 10th 2004 (Easter Vigil), at Saint Helens in...

I'd like to generally summarize the many reasons for my confirmation in the Catholic Church with three related phrases, and note how they tie in with Stewardship.

The first phrase is unitive purpose. I found that every doctrine of theology, expression of worship, and moral teaching - as difficult as some are - as well as the ecclesial nature of the Church, is woven together with an internal aim and consistency, which bears all the marks of Divine Intent.

The second phrase is "fullness of faith." Throughout my Christian walk, my relationship with God through Jesus was able progressively to take on a fuller dimension, and to culminate in the fullness, which Catholicism offers.

Now, before I go on, I do not want to give the impression that my Christian walk was a steady, continuous path; to stay true to reality, the path should be dotted here and there at places where I've strayed, and failed to be a committed Christian. Therefore, I speak from experience when I say the support the Catholic Church gives through the Sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Eucharist), through Her teaching of the Cardinal Virtues and the distinction between mortal and venial sins, through recourse to the Communion of Saints, and strengthening devotions like Eucharistic Adoration, Divine Mercy, and the Rosary; all these supports, and many more, have become indispensable to me for living, to the degree to which I do, a committed Christian life. Moreover, and to the point, these "supports" are exactly what I mean when I talk about fullness, for they involve our personal, social and moral dimensions, the use of our senses and imagination, the proper use of our intellect and will; in short, they involve our whole being in our contact with God, and make us aware of the full range of our being with which we can seek the peace of God.

And that brings me to the third and final phrase, which is ongoing conversion, or deeper conversion. To my delight, I discovered that finding the "fullness of faith" is only the beginning, for Catholic spiritual teaching conceives stages of relationship through which we progress in order to ascend to the ultimate heights of union with God. Catholic spirituality, which is drawn largely from the experience of the Saints, tells us that by faithfully using the means of God's grace, and in loving God and our neighbor, we will pass through increasingly fulfilling stages traditionally called the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Ways - so we're to be always moving forward.

Stewardship, here at St. Mary's, offers unique, enriching, concrete opportunities to keep us moving forward: from being a Eucharistic minister, usher, member of the choir -- to helping with devotions, teaching opportunities, volunteer work for those in need; there are many such opportunities suited to each of our own unique talents and gifts. I can certainly say that being a Eucharistic Minister to the Homebound is an incredible privilege, and has helped me, in relation to God and neighbor, to grow -- at least somewhat -- in the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. (By the way, my daughter Abby helps me every week by doing the Scripture readings, and it means a lot to me just to have her with me, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank her)

In closing, I'd like to thank Father... and the Parish Committee for their work in organizing the Stewardship drive, and to extend my thanks to those of you who are in any way involved with Stewardship. I'd also encourage anyone interested to get a copy of the Ministry Catalog, it's an excellent resource for matching up talents to opportunities, and for beginning, or enhancing, your own "Stewardship Way of Life".

Thank you

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Discovery of A Muslim Convert

The controversial Italian journalist Magdi Allam, born in Egypt and raised a Muslim (though he remained one only nominally), was baptized into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI this past Easter Vigil (‘08) (see story here: One of the motives Mr. Allam gives for his conversion was his being led to understand, by the help of Benedict XVI, “the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization”. However, such a statement might leave some people scratching their heads. A “link between faith and reason”? Isn’t that like saying a link between a circle and a triangle? Since the definition of one excludes the other, there can be no “link.” Similarly, if faith means fancy or blind speculation, and reason equals empirical science, then a “link” between the two is just as unintelligible. “If”, however, is the operative word.

Here in the United States, one can sense a wearisome reaction to the claim that America was founded as a Christian nation; the fact is it depends in what sense the claim is made. Many of our Founders (like Jefferson and Franklin) and men of influence (like Paine) were actually deists; Washington was a Mason. But despite such differences, all the great men of the Revolutionary period were the beneficiaries of a philosophical succession reaching back through the scholastics of the Middle Ages to the Greeks of Antiquity. Indeed, they inherited an intellectual universe governed by first principles, which was vast enough to anchor all sorts of grand edifices (like the flowering of sciences, objective morality, the existence of God, the immortality of man, and the nature of revelation -- to name but a handful), and dynamic enough to unite and animate men in causes like declaring independence from a tyrannical king and establishing an unparalleled Constitutional Republic.

I think it accurate to call the view of reality, which our Founding Fathers inherited, a classical western view (one can become sufficiently acquainted with this view by following the ten-year reading plan outlined by Mortimer Adler in the first volume of The Great Books of Western Civilization, or at least by exploring the “Great Ideas” composing volumes 2+3 (Check your local library)). I think it also safe to say that an acquaintance with the classical western view will reveal, at its heart, a very definite philosophy, even, to borrow from Agostino Steuco, a perennial philosophy. An example of the importance of this philosophy lies in one of its core tenets: that “Man [is] a rational animal”. It is from this tenet that freedom’s indispensable proposition, the equality of man, derives. Consequently, it is from this tenet, and the worldview that supports it, that the political implications of man’s equality are born into action. Abraham 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.” It’s “future use,” of course, manifested, slowly but surely, to the inclusion of blacks, women and non-land owners.

Unfortunately, however, the divide between the present and the intellectual and moral foundations of our past appears to be growing at an alarming rate. Prominent atheist professors lecture on the “abuse” of raising children in a religious atmosphere, Anglican bishops urge Sharia Law in Britain, courts challenge the inclusion of “God” in the pledge of allegiance, and the State censors long-standing Boy Scout policies and cuts funding to Catholic adoption agencies “on principle” – the list goes on and on. And what should we make of the list itself? The list, I’d submit, is nothing but a growing litany of consequences stemming from a largely polarized society. If I may take some liberty with a well-known physics axiom and apply it to the universe of these polarized worldviews, it would seem that every over-reaction has an equal and opposite over-reaction; thus, for instance, a Mr. Dawkins stands in relation to, say, an Archbishop Williams. These polarizing over-reactions, which really have taken place on many levels, have denuded words like faith and reason of their traditional meanings and relations (one need only read St. Thomas Aquinas to find that a link between the two is not an inherent contradiction).

In the mean time, many fair minded exiles wander aimlessly, feeling a disconnect from an animating, comprehensive, lost view of reality, and searching for some type of via media, some type of middle ground upon which to stand and by which to make sense of all the polarized madness. The convert Magdi Allam, in so many words, claims that he has found this lost view as an integral part of his religion; and, finding the same truth four years ago, I believe him. Still, though he and I, as Catholics, believe that the “gates of hell shall not [ultimately] prevail”; even so, “eternal vigilance…” says Andrew Jackson, “is the price of liberty,” and, if strategies from the Communist Manifesto are sure threats to our liberty, then a widespread break with our formative past -- whether through ignorance, apathy, or design -- must invariably pose a threat, in the words of our Preamble, “to ourselves and our posterity.”