Category Archives: Atheism

Atheism

Getting Rid of Bad Attitudes

Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” It’s hard to honestly face criticism, but it’s the only way we can grow as human beings, since we are notoriously good at deceiving ourselves about our own competence and knowledge.

That is why I hope theists will consider shedding attitudes we might unknowingly possess that can hinder productive dialogue.

Let’s start with three bad attitudes people who believe in God sometimes exhibit.

Bad Theistic Attitude #1: “No rational person can be an atheist! Do you think we just came from monkeys or something?”

In his book Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) writes, “Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, about the real totality of the world which he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole.”

Theists do their cause a great disservice by ridiculing atheists or saying that it is obvious atheism is false. If atheism were simply irrational, then why would believers have to guard against being “drowned” by unbelief? Likewise, atheists should know that many people have wrestled and struggled with the question of God’s ex- istence before they converted to religious faith. Both sides should accept each other’s doubts and journey toward the truth together in a spirit of mutual humility.

In regard to the theory of evolution, atheists will probably find an origin from monkeys to be more likely than an origin from God—because at least we have seen monkeys and know they exist. Even if a theist doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution, if he can create a case for God’s existence that does not come across as anti-science, most atheists will find that position to be more reasonable.

Indeed, scientific ignorance—real or perceived—only reinforces the negative stereotypes that atheists have about Christians. St. Augustine worried about this kind of attitude in the fourth century when he wrote:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world. . . . Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation.

There’s no need to insult someone’s intelligence just because he does not believe in God. In a debate at Cambridge University on the subject “Is God a Delusion?”,William Lane Craig said,

“[Atheists] recognize that the existence of God is a difficult question on which rational opinion can vary. Peter and I haven’t indicted our opponents tonight as being deluded. We think they’re mistaken, but we wouldn’t say they’re deluded. Why can’t they return the favor? People can disagree without calling each other names.”

Sensible atheists also have this agreeable attitude. Scott Aiken and Robert Talisse write in their book Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief:

“We think that religious beliefs are false and that religious believers are mistaken in their religious beliefs. We do not “respect” religious beliefs. We do, however, respect religious believers. We hold that religious believers can be intelligent, rational, and responsible, despite the falsity of their religious beliefs; in short, we hold that religious believers can be reasonable.”

Bad Theistic Attitude #2: “Atheists are immoral.”

Once when I was taking questions from an audience after one of my presentations, a gentleman asked me, “Why would anyone ever be an atheist? Don’t they know that Hitler and Stalin were atheists?” I told this man that saying someone is like Hitler usually starts a conversation off on the wrong foot, but there was an even more fundamental problem with this attitude. Whether Hitler was an atheist is unclear, but even if he was, so what? Maybe Hitler liked kittens and sunsets, too, but that doesn’t make those things evil by association. The immoral, even heinous, lives of some atheists do not invalidate the truth of atheism any more than the lives of immoral Christians invalidate theism. Any religion or belief system can have immoral people who hold to it. This does nothing to prove whether its beliefs are true or false.

Some theists say that if God does not exist, then what reasons would an atheist have to be good, since there is no life beyond the grave? But atheists have many practical reasons to be moral and would be offended by the idea that they are, as a whole, not morally good people. An atheist might cite her desire to make the human community more stable, or her need to follow her own conscience, or her belief in a principle like the Golden Rule as a reason to be moral. In any case, the real question we should ask is not why individual atheists would be moral, but why objective moral truths exist if God does not.

Bad Theistic Attitude #3: Failing to empathize with atheists

In her 2012 book Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, Greta Christina catalogues nearly 100 grievances atheists have against the followers of various religions. Christina’s complaints can be grouped under a few common themes:

-Atheists are compelled by the state to endorse or practice religion against their will (such as being forced to participate in public prayer).

-The state endorses a particular set of religious beliefs (like the teaching of creationism in public schools or prohibitions on marriage between people of the same sex).

-Religious people have ridiculous beliefs that cause them to hurt or dehumanize other people through acts like medical malpractice, bullying, social rejection, and even murder.

-Religious people believe things for stupid reasons.

In one example, Christina writes,“I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when their husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives.”

Some theists will reply defensively that such examples don’t reflect their religion, or that their religion is being misrepresented as being unreasonable. But sometimes atheists don’t want to know if your religion is reasonable.

Sometimes they just want to know if you are reasonable. Aren’t you at least angry at Christians who use religion as an excuse to bully children? Wouldn’t you agree that laws related to marriage or abortion should be based on reason and not religion? Isn’t it okay to be angry when religious hypocrites hurt others? If atheists think theists are just “out to get them” and aren’t concerned by these injustices like they are, then there can be little hope for theistic beliefs to get a fair hearing among non-believers.

Likewise, atheists should realize that although theists and Christians are a majority in the United States, there are many particular places where they are the minority and can be pushed around. According to the Social Science Research Council, while only about one in five people think the Bible is a book of fables and myths, nearly three out of four professors at elite universities hold that view.

Instead of bullying, both sides of this debate should protect each other’s right to discuss and disagree without the fear of violence or persecution.”

Love,
Matthew

Questions from friends…


-by Trent Horn

Questions From Friends

When I was considering joining the Catholic Church I sat down with some of my non-Catholic friends to see if they could talk me out of my decision. They were Christians, but they didn’t consider themselves to be “Protestants.” Instead, they called themselves Evangelicals or just “Christ-followers.” Regardless, their response to my decision to become Catholic surprised me.

One of the girls said, “As long as Catholics believe in Jesus then I don’t think it’s a big deal.” Another chimed in, “I mean, we’re never going to know which church is the right church or even if there is such a thing, so why worry?”

That answer didn’t satisfy me so I asked them, “Don’t you wonder if one of the churches that exists today can be traced back to the Church Jesus founded? Don’t you wonder which church Jesus wants us to join?”

The First Christians

My question was met with a collective shrug and a simple recommendation that I just “believe in Jesus,” but that wasn’t good enough for me. How did my Evangelical friends know we only have to believe in Jesus to be saved? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Do we have to be baptized to believe in Jesus? Do we have to receive Communion? If I stop believing in Jesus will I lose my salvation?

I wanted the answers to these questions so I decided to study what the very first Christians believed. These were the believers who lived just after the apostles. If there was one church I wanted to belong to, it was their church.

In the time of the apostles believers were called “Christians,” but the Church was not called “the Christian Church.” It was simply referred to as “the Church,” as is evident in Luke’s description of what Paul and Barnabas did in the city of Antioch. He said, “For a whole year they met with the Church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

A few decades later St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to Christians who lived six hundred miles away, in the coastal city of Smyrna (located in modern Turkey). He said, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

An Old Baby Photo

“How can today’s Catholic Church with all of its traditions and rituals be the same the humble Church we read about in the New Testament?” It’s a good question, but it’s sort of like asking, “How can that fully grown man be the same little boy whose diaper had to be changed decades earlier?” In both cases the body being described grew and developed over time without becoming a different kind of being.

The man, for example, has many things he did not have as a baby (like a beard he needs to shave). But he also has many of the same things he did have as a baby. This includes the same DNA that guides his growth and gives him features like “his father’s nose,” which can be seen in his old baby photos. In the same way, the Catholic Church, which St. Paul calls the Body of Christ (Eph. 5:23), has the same “DNA” as the Church of the first century: the word of God. This word is transmitted both through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and you can see its effect in one of the Church’s “old baby photos.”

One particular “photo” comes from the second century, when St. Justin Martyr wrote about how when Christians gathered to worship, they “offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person, and for all others in every place.” After that, they “salute one another with a kiss,” the presider at the service takes bread and wine and does the following:

[He] gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.

Justin’s description corresponds to the prayers of the faithful, the exchange of peace, the offering of bread and wine, and the “great amen” that are still said at Catholic services today. Justin goes on to say that the bread and wine at Mass are not mere symbols of Christ’s body and blood, but are instead “the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” This doctrine, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, is one the Catholic Church still teaches and defends.

Here are some other examples of what the first Christians believed. Can you see the resemblance to what Catholics believe today in these other “baby photos”?

  • Submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ.—St. Ignatius A.D. 110.
  • Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life.—Tertullian, A.D. 203.
  •  The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants.—Origen, A.D. 248.
  • Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner.—St Cyprian, A.D. 251.

Why We Believe: The Catholic Church

  • Jesus established a Church built on the apostles that included a hierarchy, or sacred order, that included deacons, priests, and bishops.
  • Only the Catholic Church can trace its authority back to the apostles and their immediate successors.
  • The Catholic Church has maintained in her current teachings the ancient doctrines of Christ, the apostles, and the early Church.”

Love,
Matthew

Lunch w/an atheist


-by Trent Horn

“I was sitting in a booth at a restaurant in San Diego waiting for the religious equivalent of a “blind date” to begin.

A few weeks earlier, some Catholic friends of mine asked me to meet with their son while he was home from college. They wanted me to speak to him because he told his parents he wasn’t going to church with them anymore because he was now an atheist. They asked me, “Can you help him see he needs to start going back to church? Can you help him get over all this atheist stuff?”

Then their son, who I’ll call Vincent, walked through the door. I raised my hand and he did his best to manage half a smile before he sat down.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Good, I’m Trent.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I didn’t expect this to go very well and, to be frank, I understood his lack of enthusiasm about having lunch with me. That’s why I decided just to be honest with him.

“You think I’m here to talk you back into being Catholic again?”

“Sure, it’s why my parents kept asking me to see you,” he said.

“Look, I don’t think there’s anything I can say that’s going to make you change what you believe. I just think you should believe in something because you think it’s true, not just because it’s convenient for you. Does that make sense?”

He nodded in agreement.

“How about this. Why don’t you just tell me why you’re an atheist.”

“I know you wrote a book on atheism, so I’m not going to debate you,” he shot back.

“I don’t feel like debating anybody over a plate of mozzarella sticks,” I responded. “I just want to find out what you believe, that’s all.”

So for the next twenty minutes I asked him questions. What do you mean by the term “atheist”? What are the best arguments for and against God? What are the worst? What do you think are the good and bad things about the Catholic Church?

By the time our entrees arrived we were having a good discussion. I gently challenged some of his atheistic beliefs but, true to my word, it wasn’t a debate. It was just two guys having a deep conversation.

As I dipped my quesadilla into some salsa I said to Vincent, “I think I’ve got a good grasp on why you’re an atheist and I actually like talking to people like you. You’ve given this issue a lot of thought, and if I’m wrong about atheism I’d want someone like you to show me where I’m wrong.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“But it’s a two-way street, Vincent. Be honest. If you were wrong about the Catholic Church, would you want someone like me to show you what you were wrong about?”

He took a sip of his soda while he thought the question over, and finally said, “Yeah, I’d be open to that.”

“Okay, well, I’ve spent a lot of time asking you questions, so now it’s your turn. Why don’t you ask me about what Catholics believe and I’ll tell you why we believe that stuff. You can take my reasons or leave them, but I think your parents will be happy that we at least talked about them.” Vincent agreed and we kept at it for another hour.

As the check came, he said to me, “I appreciate what you said. I’ll definitely think about all of it.”

“And I’ll think about what you said,” I replied. “Remember, it’s a two-way street.”

A Common Desire

I don’t look at people who’ve left the Catholic Church or who aren’t Catholic as potential “customers.” They’re just people. They have things they love and things they hate. They may differ from me in lots of ways, but they almost certainly have one thing in common with me: they don’t want to be ignorant and they do want to be happy. I became Catholic in high school because 1) I thought it was true, and 2) finding answers to my deepest questions about existence and purpose made me happy.

It would be selfish for me to keep to myself the peace and joy I receive from being Catholic, so I share this “good news” with others. My aim in Why We’re Catholic is simple: to explain why Catholics believe what they believe. I haven’t given every explanation I can think of, because most people aren’t in a rush to read a book that is so thick it can double as a step-stool. Instead, I’ve presented the reasons that made the biggest impact on me during my conversion to the Catholic faith.

If you are Catholic, this book should give you a great starting point for discussions with your non-Catholic friends and family. If you aren’t Catholic, then I hope, you will at least be willing to hear me out, like Vincent did. Even if it doesn’t convince you, it should help you have more thoughtful conversations with Catholic friends and family, because you will better understand their point of view.

Whoever you are, whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or you’re just not sure what you believe, I hope at a minimum this book will encourage you to follow an ancient piece of wisdom: “Test everything, retain what is good.”

Love,
Matthew

The search for truth – Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler is a former atheist who was born and raised with the natural materialist worldview that says, “If you can see it and touch it, then it is real.” Influenced by her atheist father, who told her, “Seek truth and do not believe assumptions,” from early childhood she sought answers to her many questions that eventually brought her to an unexpected destination.


-by Jennifer Fulwiler

“One thing I could never get on the same page with my fellow atheists about was the idea of meaning. The other atheists I knew seemed to feel like life was full of purpose despite the fact that we’re all nothing more than chemical reactions. I could never get there. In fact, I thought that whole line of thinking was unscientific, and more than a little intellectually dishonest. If everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it’s all destined to be extinguished at death. And considering that the entire span of homo sapiens’ existence on earth wouldn’t even amount to a blip on the radar screen of a 5-billion-year-old universe, it seemed silly to pretend like the 60-odd-year life of some random organism on one of trillions of planets was something special. (I was a blast at parties.)

By simply living my life, I felt like I was living a lie. I acknowledged the truth that life was meaningless, and yet I kept acting as if my own life had meaning, as if all the hope and love and joy I’d experienced was something real, something more than a mirage produced by the chemicals in my brain. Suicide had crossed my mind — not because I was depressed in the common sense of the word, simply because it seemed like it was nothing more than speeding up the inevitable. A life multiplied by zero yields the same result, no matter when you do it.

Not knowing what else to do, I followed the well-worn path of people who are trying to run from something that haunts them: I worked too much. I drank too much. I was emotionally fragile. Many of my relationships with other people were toxic. I wrapped myself in a cocoon of distractions, trying to pretend like I didn’t know what I knew.

A Guy Named Joe

A year after I graduated from college, I met a guy at work named Joe. I was so impressed with him but I didn’t think I had much of a chance. He’d grown up poor, raised by a single mother, and had gone on to get degrees from Yale, Columbia, and Stanford. People who knew him said he was one of the smartest people they’d ever met. So when we began dating, I was thrilled. Our life together turned out to be even better than I could have imagined: We traveled the world on whims, ate at the finest restaurants, flew first class, and threw epic parties on the roof of his loft downtown. On top of that, both of our careers were taking off, so our future held only more money and more success.

We were a perfect couple. The only thing we didn’t see the same way was the issue of religion. A few months after we started dating, it came out that Joe not only believed in God, but considered himself a Christian. I did not understand how someone who was perfectly capable of rational thought could believe in fairy tale stories like those of Christianity. Did he believe in Santa Claus too?

It didn’t cause any problems between us, though, since we had the same basic moral code: he didn’t practice this bizarre faith of his in any noticeable way, and, mainly, I did not want to think about it. At all. Whenever the subject of God came up, something deep within me recoiled. Not that I had any problem demolishing silly theist ideas — it had been something of a hobby back in college — but the subject took me too close to that thing I was trying to forget. I had constructed my entire life around not thinking about it, so I never articulated what it was. It had been so buried by the parties and the socializing and the breathless running from place to place that it was no longer a specific concept, just some dark, cold amorphous knowledge I needed to avoid.

Joe and I married in a theater in 2003, reciting vows we wrote ourselves, with me wearing a dark purple dress. The plan was that marriage would be just a stepping stone along the path we were already on. But then I discovered I was pregnant, and everything changed.

Motherhood Turns My Life Upside Down

Motherhood caught me completely off guard. I’d grown up as an only child in a culture where nobody I knew had more than two kids living at home. I never had a friend whose mom had a baby during the time of our friendship. And considering that I’d never wanted kids and had some minor medical issues that made me think I probably couldn’t have them anyway, I was utterly unprepared for motherhood. The physical, mental, and emotional changes I went through after the birth of my son were a hard blow, like a punch to the head that comes out of the blue, and it left me reeling.

This cataclysmic event unearthed all those old thoughts about meaninglessness, and this time there was no re-burying them. Now that I had a child, it felt like my life had more meaning than ever. The dark-haired, blue-eyed baby felt so valuable; my own life was flooded with hope and joy at his presence. But with none of the usual distractions in place, the facts of the matter now descended upon me: There was nothing transcendent about my son’s life, my life, or any of the love I felt for him. He was destined for the same fate as the rest of us, to have his entire existence erased upon his inevitable death.

For weeks, I hardly got out of bed. Some combination of severe sleep deprivation and more severe depression left me almost catatonic. But then one morning, as I looked at the baby in the pre-dawn light that filtered in through the window, I felt something new within me. It was something that was not despair, some unfamiliar yet welcome feeling. I peeled back the layers to find that it was doubt: Doubt of my purely materialist worldview, doubt of the truth I had believed since childhood that there is nothing transcendent about the human life.

I considered that in almost every single time and place throughout human history, people have believed in some kind of spiritual realm. Almost every human society we know of has shared the belief that there is more to life than meets the eye, that what transpires here in the material world somehow reverberates into the eternal. Previously I had assumed that the vast majority of the billions of people who had ever lived were all simply ignorant; now I wondered if maybe I was the one who was missing something.

My First Christian Book

A few months later, I stumbled across a Christian book. I’d never been in the Religion section of a bookstore, let alone read anything about Christianity. I’d only picked up this book because the author claimed to be a former atheist, and I was curious to see what level of fraud he was. After flipping through the first few pages, I was surprised to find that I believed that he had been an atheist. I read a few more pages, and found his writing to be clear and basically reasonable. Obviously he’d come to the wrong conclusions, but I could respect the fact that he at least attempted to reason his way into his current belief system, rather than basing it on some emotional experience. I found that I couldn’t put the book down, and ended up buying it (loudly noting to the cashier that it was a gift for a friend).

A quick internet search showed that the book was widely scorned by atheists, and some of their counter-points to the author’s arguments were good. But it was simply not true to say that there was nothing compelling about it. For example, the book pointed out that thousands of Jewish people abandoned the sacred practices that had sustained them through centuries, through all types of persecution, in the years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Almost all of Jesus’ original followers went to their death rather than recant their statements that they’d seen Him rise from the dead. Christianity spread like wildfire in the early centuries, despite the fact that becoming a Christian often meant persecution or even death.

I had never seen Jesus as anything other than a silly fairy tale figure whom people called upon to give a divine thumbs-up to self-serving beliefs, but now I was intrigued by the man as a historical figure. Something happened in first-century Palestine, something so big that it still sends shockwaves down to the present day. And it all centered around the figure of Jesus Christ. As Joe once pointed out when I asked him why he considered himself a Christian, Christianity is the only one of all the major world religions to be founded by a guy who claimed to be God. That’s an easy claim to disprove if it’s not true.

One afternoon, shortly after I finished the book, I was caught off guard by a thought: What if it’s true?

What if there were a God? What if He chose to enter history as a human being? It was the most shattering thought that had ever crossed my mind. Never once in my life, not even as a child, had I considered that a personal God might exist, or that there could be even a shred of truth to any of Christianity’s supernatural claims. I quickly came to my senses and admonished myself to stop this silliness. Part of me wondered if I was losing my mind — what else could explain such a thought?

I wanted to forget all about this embarrassing little incident … but I couldn’t. Some strange feeling had risen up within me, that wouldn’t let me walk away from this subject. I figured that it must be simple curiosity. All I needed to do was read a bit more about Christianity, then when I was overwhelmed with the obvious flaws in its theology, I could move on.

Plunging Into the Deep End of the Pool

I bought another Christian book, this one called Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Unfortunately, this was not going to help me extricate myself from this religion.

Lewis was reasonable and obviously intelligent. His book was one of the most clear, well-written things I’d read in a long time. I was particularly captivated by his case for the Natural Law, in which he proposed that God is the source of all that we call “good,” which is why people in all times and places have had the same basic ideas about what is good and what is bad. My curiosity piqued, I then read excerpts online from the great Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas. I began to think that this religion was not opposed to reason at all — in fact, some of the most intelligent, reasonable people in history were Christians.

I finally caved in and bought a Bible, the first I’d ever owned. Not knowing how else to approach it, I started reading at page one. I was alternately baffled and horrified by what I read in the first few hundred pages. Joe encouraged me to read the second part of the book, called the New Testament, since that is where Jesus comes into the picture. That didn’t help. There was no clear call to action, like, “If you like what you’ve read here and would like to become a Christian, here’s what you do.” I had no idea how to interpret most of the passages, and it seemed like no one else did either. When I would search online for whether or not the Bible said abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, etc. were right or wrong, I encountered as many different answers as there were people, with each person citing Bible verses to back up his or her personal view. Similarly, I had no idea which church to go to if I wanted to ask someone questions in person: In my community there was everything from Church of Christ to Jehovah’s Witnesses to conservative Baptist to liberal Anglican churches, each one claiming to be based on the Bible, yet they all taught drastically different things about what constitutes sin.

This was a huge problem. If God is all that is good, then to define what is bad — in other words, sin — is to define the very boundaries of God Himself. It was nonsensical to suggest that His religion would be confused on that issue.

I’d found what I was looking for: the flaw that showed that Christianity didn’t make sense. It was time to move on.

What’s This with the Catholic Intellectuals?

Shortly after I came to this realization, someone I’d encountered online made a crazy suggestion: he said that I’d been approaching the whole thing from a very modern and distinctly American perspective, that the traditional understanding of Christianity is totally different. He suggested that Jesus founded just one Church before He left the earth, and that He instilled it with supernatural power so that it would accurately articulate the truth about what is good — and therefore about what is God — for all times and places. As if that weren’t crazy enough, he was talking about the Catholic Church!

Joe and I both balked. Joe said that Catholicism wasn’t real Christianity, and I knew that the Church was an archaic, oppressive, sexist institution. Besides, this idea of supernaturally-empowered people was just silly.

However, I did notice something: almost all the people who had impressed me with their ability to defend their faith through reason alone, both famous authors and people online, were Catholic. In fact, the more I paid attention, the more I saw that the Catholic intellectual tradition was one of the greatest in the world. I began reading books by Catholic authors; not that I was really interested in Catholicism, I told myself — I was just looking for something good to read. But I couldn’t help but admit that these people seemed to possess an understanding of the world and the human experience that I’d never encountered before. They had the same solid grasp on science and the material world as the atheists, but also possessed a knowledge of the movements of the human soul that resonated as true down to the core of my being.

I wasn’t sure what to make of all this Catholic stuff, and still vehemently disagreed with the Church on some of its crazier ideas, like its opposition to abortion and contraception. But I had to admit that the more I read about Catholic theology, the more sane it seemed.

I also began to think that it was more likely than not that God does exist, and that if the Christians weren’t entirely right, they were at least close with their understanding of Him. But why, then, had I had no experience of Him? Not that this was a requirement for me to believe, but it just seemed like if there were a God out there and He cared about me, I would sense His presence in some way.

I’d been under a lot of stress between having a new baby and some money problems we were experiencing, plus I’d developed a severe pain in my leg that was almost debilitating. All along I’d prided myself on saying that I would never convert based on emotional experience, that I only needed facts, not feelings. But now it was getting old. It was hurtful to think that God might be out there but just withholding comfort from me. I was tired of pressing forward in this pursuit with no sense of His presence. I could be miserable and feel alone in the universe as an agnostic — why bother with this religion business if that didn’t change anything?

Will It Work? An Experiment

My feelings of frustration and resentment toward God reached a head. And then, just at the right time, I happened to come across a quote from C.S. Lewis in which he pointed out:

[God] shows much more of Himself to some people than to others — not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.

Of course. I’d been walking around talking trash, watching TV shows that portrayed all types of nastiness, indulging in selfish behavior … and yet wondering why I couldn’t feel the presence of the source of all goodness. I realized that, if I were serious about figuring out if God exists or not, it could not be an entirely intellectual exercise. I had to be willing to change.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to sign up for that for the long haul, but I decided to give it a shot: I committed to go a month living according to the Catholic moral code. I bought a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of the Church’s teachings, and studied it carefully, living my life according to what it taught, even in the cases where I wasn’t sure the Church was right.

My goal with the experiment had been to discover the presence of God; instead, I discovered myself — the real me. I had thought that cynicism, judgmentalness, and irritability were just parts of who I was, but I realized that there was a purer, better version of me buried underneath all that filth — what the Church would call sins — that I had never before encountered.

I found that the rules of the Church, that I had once perceived to be a set of confining laws, were rules of love; they defined the boundaries between what is love and what is not. It had changed me, my life, and my marriage for the better. I may not have experienced God, but by following the teachings of the Church that was supposedly founded by Him, I had experienced real love.

Following the teachings about contraception had been moot since I was pregnant with our second child, but I did read up on it during my experiment of following the Church’s teachings. And, to my great surprise, I discovered that the Church had incredibly reasonable defenses of its points. I asked Joe to take a look at this stuff in case I was missing something, and, to his own amazement, he also found the Church’s arguments to be airtight. He had been doing his own investigation into Catholicism, and this was the final issue that had been troubling him too. We looked at each other, and for the first time dared to ask: Are we going to become Catholic?!

Medical and Moral Complications

Only two weeks after we had that thought, that pain in my leg got so bad that I ended up in the ER. I was seven months pregnant with our second child, and it turned out that I had a deep vein thrombosis, a life-threatening blood clot in a major vein. If the clot had broken free, I likely would have died.

After some testing, the doctors delivered worse news: I have a genetic clotting disorder that means that my blood clots easily — and I inherited it from both parents, which makes it worse. On top of that, it is exacerbated by pregnancy, which makes pregnancy dangerous for me.

I had a lot of time to mull over this turn of events: the clot couldn’t be treated during pregnancy, and the pain was so severe that I could no longer walk on my own. So I spent most of my days lying in bed, wondering what to do now.

To treat the clot postpartum, the doctors wanted to prescribe an FDA Category X drug to treat the clot — it’s so dangerous for pregnancy that women often choose to be sterilized before they take it. They told me that my clotting disorder means I should not have any more children, because of the risk that pregnancy poses to my health. I didn’t want them to think I was religious for fear of what they’d think of me, but when I hinted at the question of using Natural Family Planning (a method for spacing children that the Church deems morally acceptable), they laughed. Someone with my condition had to use contraception, they said. There was no choice.

Fatigued by the constant pain, overwhelmed by medical bills that were piling up by the thousands, I began to slide back away from this religion, tumbling down a slope that ended back in atheism. I hadn’t minded changing in the sense of not using the F-word so much, but this was a whole different ball game. To stick with the Church now would be to lose my life as I knew it, and to set out down an unfamiliar, frightening path.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back to the basics of the way I’d been taught to work through problems since childhood. My dad, my parent from whom I got my religious views (or lack thereof), had not raised me to be an atheist as much as he’d raised me to seek truth fearlessly. “Never believe something because it’s convenient or it makes you feel good,” he’d always say. “Ask yourself: ‘Is this true?’”

And so I set everything else aside, and clung to the simple question: What is true?

I quickly realized then that this was not in question, and hadn’t been for a while. For weeks now, I had known on an intellectual level that I believed what the Church taught. What stalled me had not been a hesitation of whether or not it was true; it had been a hesitation of not wanting to sacrifice too much.

I had no idea how things would work out. I thought there was a fair chance that this step would lead us to financial ruin, and may even take a serious toll on my health. But I decided, for the first time in a long time, to choose what was true instead of what was comfortable. Joe and I signed up to begin the formation process at our parish church. And, in the first statement of faith I’d ever made, I told my doctors that I would not use contraception, because I was Catholic.

God Helps Us Home

After that moment, a bunch of fortuitous events occurred that smoothed the way for us to become Catholic. A series of windfalls gave us the money we needed to manage our medical bills. After they got over their initial shock at encountering someone who wouldn’t contracept, my doctors came up with creative solutions to keep me healthy. Even after a surprise positive pregnancy test came at the worst possible time, just a few weeks after I’d healed from the blood clot, a bunch of startling coincidences played out to help us stay afloat during that difficult time.

The next spring, three days before Joe and I would be received into the Church, it was time for my first confession. As I approached the confessional, I had no hesitation. I had an intellectual understanding that God is the source of goodness, and that therefore it’s important that we take great care to repent when we have done something bad. But I’d already privately confessed all these sins in my head, so I figured that telling them to the priest, who was simply standing in for Jesus, would be redundant — after all, Jesus had already heard all this stuff.

But as soon as I heard the words coming from my mouth, everything changed. To hear all of these selfish, cowardly, hateful acts articulated with real words, for another human being to hear, was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. Tears began to flow, and, as I continued recounting every unloving thing I’d ever done, I shook and sobbed. Never could I have imagined the impact it would have on me to hear of my own sins, spoken out loud; but never could I have imagined how much it would impact me to hear the words, spoken by the​ priest on behalf of God, that I was forgiven. I walked away from the confessional in a daze, and slid into a pew in the silent church. I knew that my life had just changed, never to be the same again.

Later that night, around midnight, I stepped out on the back porch. When I was younger I used to avoid going outside at night when it was quiet and still, because it would trigger memories of all those ominous thoughts about meaninglessness that I was trying to forget. The darkness outside was too familiar, as if it had all spilled out from somewhere within me. But as I stood there that night after my first confession, I realized that all that was gone. The darkness within me was simply not there anymore. In its place was peace, and an unmistakable feeling of love. For the first time, I felt the presence of God.”

Love,
Matthew

Why I am a Catholic – Carl Sundell


-Carl Sundell is Professor Emeritus of English and Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas. He has authored several books and has contributed to New Oxford Review and Catholic Insight. He is currently developing a book for students of Catholic apologetics.

“I have not always been a Catholic. At the age of ten I was baptized at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Lubbock, Texas. My mother and stepfather were not churchgoers, but must have thought I was misbehaving sufficiently to require more moral guidance than they were equipped to provide. For several Sundays they took me on a tour of churches throughout the city, then asked me which one I liked. I told them I wanted to go back to the one with the bells and candles and statues and the great music and the man up front in the neat costume. “Well Carl,” my mother said, “it looks like you’re going to be a Catholic.”

On top of that, I became an altar server. That was in Carlsbad, New Mexico. During my junior year at the high school there, I had an excellent English teacher, John Hadsell. He was not a Catholic, but he introduced me to a book of Father Brown detective stories by G.K. Chesterton. One day, Mr. Hadsell radically changed my life by reading to the class St. Anselm’s ontological proof for the existence of God. Can you imagine an English teacher getting away with that today in a public high school? I was so impressed (but also confused) by Anselm’s logic that I asked him to read the proof again. He patiently did, and from that moment on began my serious search for (and later flight from) Anselm’s “Being of whom no greater being can be conceived.”

At Carlsbad I encountered another formidable influence. In the school library I came across a book of essays by Jacques Maritain, the premier Catholic philosopher of the twentieth century. I learned that he was living at Princeton University and wrote him a letter congratulating him on his book. Several weeks later I was in glorious shock after receiving a kindly reply and words of encouragement.

Our correspondence continued through seventeen letters over five years. My daily reach into the mailbox was an adventure. Maritain was a very modest man, never drawing attention to himself and always offering advice on how to advance my spiritual rather than my intellectual life. He urged frequent confession as good for the soul.

In 1958 I attended one year at Cardinal O’Connell minor seminary near Boston. Originally I had planned to become a monk at the Trappist Abby in Spencer, Massachusetts, but the priest in charge of vocations at the Worcester diocese persuaded me that I was too young for such a life, and that anyway I had all the makings of a secular priest (I had, and still have, no idea what that meant).

Seminary life I found alternately dull and disagreeable, perhaps mainly because I had to study Greek, Latin, and French along with English and Mathematics. Many of my fellow seminarians seemed to lack a deep spirituality. I now suspect they saw me as even more lacking. Once I was mistakenly disciplined for an infraction of the rule of silence committed by someone else in the library. I did not inform on the culprit and silently accepted a stern rebuke by the priest who was dean of discipline, a fairly disagreeable character. I met him in layman’s clothes twenty years later in an elevator. We spoke briefly, but I knew by his casual manner that he did not remember disciplining me. He had left the priesthood, married, and seemed even grumpier than I remembered him as a priest.

My family, still not churchgoers, actively opposed my decision to become a priest. After a year in the seminary, I lost the urge. There followed four years in the Air Force, during which time the letters from Maritain stopped. His wife, Raïssa, a Jewish writer and poet who had converted to Catholicism with him, had died, and he had gone to live with the Little Brothers of Jesus in Toulouse, France. One of the monks he lived with answered my last letter to Maritain, explaining that old age and illness made it necessary for him to cut back on his correspondence. Since Maritain had been a loving father figure for me, I was truly hurt by the loss.

After the Air Force I finished college, where I studied literature and philosophy. Most of the philosophers I read were atheists. The one I remember most is Bertrand Russell, especially his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” which I now believe has seduced many young would-be intellectuals who cannot see through the flippant shallowness of Russell’s logic. Like many strident young would-be scholars of the radical 60’s generation, I gradually came to think of myself as too smart to be taken in by religion. This seemed to me also the posture of my academic colleagues in the college where I later taught English and Humanities for thirty years. Having completed my Master’s Degree, I stopped going to Church.

My first wife was an atheist. She had many varied talents and seemed to enjoy pursuing all of them at the same time. After college, we were married by a Justice of the Peace. God was not mentioned during the ceremony, nor ever by either of us thereafter. During the second year of our marriage, my wife’s brother, Jack, killed himself with a shotgun blast to his head. Since I had spoken to him the day before about his drinking problem, I deduced, rightly or wrongly, that I had somehow inadvertently nudged him to pull the trigger. I helped his brother clean up the room in which some of his blood and flesh clung to the walls and the floor. Then I went into deep depression for several weeks and broke down in tears during a visit to my physician. He prescribed a long-term medication that eventually calmed me down. Yet to this day I feel obliged to tremble for Jack’s blood and the fate of my immortal soul.

Our relatively joyless marriage lasted ten years. I remained single for the next twenty years, ever remorseful that I had not tried harder to save our marriage. I could not judge whether it was my doing, or hers, or both of us who failed each other. I now suspect that the absence of God in our lives made all the difference. I hope she too has made that discovery and has at last found a big place for God in her life.

For about twenty-five years I was more a practical atheist than a militant warrior for the cause, though I once wrote a letter of support to America’s most hated atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was later murdered by one of her atheist employees. But when two of my psychological anchors, my father and grandmother, died within three months of each other in 1990, I began to feel some vague rumblings of spirituality. After two years of soul-searching, I came to realize that the twenty-five years of my life without God had been the worst years of my life, even though I had imagined and convinced myself during that time that they were among the best.

I searched for and found my eighth grade teacher, Sister Ann Marshall of the Sisters of Mercy. She put me in touch with a Worcester priest, Father Bernard Gilgun, who was active in the Catholic Worker movement and knew Dorothy Day. Father Bernie was the kindest man I have ever known. During my first confession as a born-again Catholic, I broke down in tears at one point, and he joined his tears with mine. Before long I was enlisted by Father Bernie in the Catholic Worker movement to ladle food out for hungry patrons at the Mustard Seed kitchen in Worcester.

Now in my early fifties, I was attending the Eucharistic Adoration hour weekly and praying for guidance as to how I should spend my renewed life as a Catholic. I’ve been told it often happens to prodigal children soon after they return to God, and especially after they have taken up weekly Eucharistic Adoration, that they are greatly blessed in some very special way. That happened to me. Within three months my niece Jessica introduced me to my future wife, Louise. Louise had been reared in the Church of Christ in Hugo, Oklahoma, but had drifted away from churchgoing. Soon after we met, she told me that I was the third Catholic whom she had known and loved. I asked her if she didn’t think maybe God was trying to tell her something. About a year later she was welcomed into the Catholic Church by the same good priest who officiated at our wedding, Monsignor John Kelliher.

In 2001, after my retirement from teaching, Louise and I moved to Lubbock, Texas. Searching for a new ministry, one day in a second hand bookstore I happened to pick up a biography of my old hero, Jacques Maritain. The author mentioned Maritain’s last literary act before his death, the autographing of one of his own books for a man who had just been released from prison. Soon thereafter, for about five years, Louise and I taught RCIA and catechism classes in a state prison near Lamesa, Texas.

Now I’d like to share some thoughts about my return to the Catholic Church.

To the agnostic and to the atheist I say that any philosophy declaring the universe to be meaningless is itself meaningless, since that philosophy is part of a “meaningless” universe. We look for meaning (purpose) everywhere on our planet and in our lives. That being the case, why shouldn’t the universe itself have meaning or purpose? And why shouldn’t the only creature who can imagine a Thing greater than the universe reach out to that Thing in search of its own purpose?

I know God because there is a voice in me that tells me nothing makes sense without God to make sense of it. There is a voice in me (and whose voice could it be but God’s?) that tells me what is right and what is wrong, that makes me feel good when I do right, and feel bad when I do wrong. This conviction in me is so strong I have come to agree with Chesterton that the world is not an essay; it is a story. And if it is a story, there ought to be a storyteller; and the storyteller should not be one who specializes in the only kind of drama I have always despised… the theatre of the absurd.

The world we live in today seems to me on many levels absurd because it denies the existence of a divine story teller. The world has lost some common sense, to be sure, when it is argued by the Supreme Court that pornography cannot be defined, that the killing of life in the womb can be done with impunity, and that men should be able to marry men and women be able to marry women. Some kind of moral anchor has been pulled up, and we are tossed about in a tempest of moral relativity. The Catholic Church alone, it seems to me, still knows and teaches that common sense resides in the natural law. Catholic Christianity, attacked from all sides as the great enemy of progress, is in reality the only loyal friend left to the human race.

As to the absurd canard that only science can save the human race from itself, all the discoveries of modern science are now pushing us to the realization that the universe does have some kind of intelligent design behind it. Astronomers tell us that the universe at one time did not exist, and that it suddenly exploded into being. Carl Sagan, a scientist and atheist, said the early universe was filled with light. “Let there be light!” God said, we are told in Genesis. That image is too clever by far not to have been planted in the mind of the prophet by a Mind greater than his own thousands of years ago.

Max Born, quantum physicist, offered the following remark: “Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly.” Scientist Werner Heisenberg saw into the self-deception of “scientific” atheism: “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

While I used to smugly suppose some merit in the advance of science as a way to discredit religion, this now seems to me a superficial and totally incomplete approach to life. There are too many issues that science is completely incompetent to address; not least of which are wisdom, ethics, aesthetics, politics, history, theories of knowledge, human destiny, and so forth. Science has no doubt provided some pleasures, conveniences, and comforts to many people; but it has also threatened by way of nuclear arsenals the future of life on this planet. The very mixed bag of scientific achievements has raised the question of whether science might, after all, lead as likely to Armageddon as to Utopia.

The fundamental dilemma of all atheist and agnostic thought is that it considers religion to be a neurosis, a failure of nerve. Atheists and agnostics, as Sigmund Freud often insisted, like to think that religion is wishful thinking for the immortality that is denied by the fact of death. It never occurred to me when I was an atheist that I might be the truly neurotic one. It never occurred to me to ask whether or not I was an atheist because I did not want God to exist. Nor did it ever occur to me to ask why I did not want God to exist. There is a profoundly developed answer to that question in Dr. Paul Vitz’s book, Faith of the Fatherless, which wonderfully upends Freud’s analysis of religion as a neurotic condition.

I do believe that someone, somewhere, prayed for me to overcome my atheism. I now believe that such prayers are necessary, and that they work wonders. The problem with atheism is that it cuts short the approach to God. Look at the biographies of many of the most famous atheists and you see they have chosen to deny God in their teen years, hardly a sign that the matter has been deeply explored. The ones who come back to God sometimes take decades to do so, and in most cases it only requires a little nudge here and there to make that happen. Some wait until the very end of their lives, and some return to God on their deathbeds without anyone knowing about it.

Here, briefly, is my favorite proof for the existence of God. The whole human race can be divided into two types: those who seek God, and those who flee from God. Nobody is sitting on the fence, even if they like to think they are. As Jesus succinctly put it: “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Now there is no reason to seek a Thing unless you think in your gut the Thing exists. There is no reason to flee from a Thing unless you think there is a Thing from which to flee. Seeking or fleeing, we all believe in our gut that the Thing called God exists. Catholic theologians call this a dictate of the natural law. God planted in us a desire to know Him. We are free to embrace or reject that desire. But we are not justified to pretend that there is no Thing calling us to draw near, or no Thing from which we flee. Augustine said we cannot rest until we rest in Him.

Here is my second favorite proof for the existence of God. It rightly belongs to Thomas Aquinas, and is called the Prime Mover argument. This proof relies upon a willingness to believe that the universe was created by a Prime Mover. The only question to follow this concession is whether this Mover is a mindless Mover or a Person. At the very least, the Prime Mover, if it is to be regarded as a Person, must have will and intellect. That the universe once did not exist and came to exist with the Big Bang suggests very strongly that the Prime Mover willed it, or it would not have come to exist. That the universe came to exist, but is also dominated by laws that have produced not only order, but also minds (our own) capable of discerning the existence of that order, suggests intellect in the Prime Mover. As Albert Einstein put it, “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

That the Prime Mover might want to have a personal relationship with his creatures is suggested by the fact that he chose to create them in the first place. If he doesn’t want personal relationships, he would not bother to make creatures who also want a personal relationship with him. I think that when Nietzsche said God is dead, he could have been talking about the impersonal God of the 18th century Deists. Yes, I believe that God is dead and pretty much forgotten today.

To followers of the world religions outside of Christianity, I say I am a Catholic because, if God exists, God must have created us for a reason that was clearly explained by Him to His prophets and to His Church. If God is truthful, God would have set up His true religion to compete successfully with all the other major religions of the world. And so He has. From one Jew in Israel, nailed to a tree, the ancient Jewish religion He (the Son of God) founded through Abraham and transformed through Himself has today gone out to well over a billion Catholics throughout the world. This is a miracle of the highest order that cannot be compared with the growth and longevity claimed by any of the other great religions.

Likewise, the compassionate life and death of Jesus leaves not one doubt for me that if God is Love, there can be no greater love for humankind than the love of the God-Man who laid down His life for His friends. The religions that do not say first of all that “God is Love,” as all the early Christians said, have no appeal for me. They are at bottom either indifferent or malicious. They tend to go the way of all flesh, and if they have not gone that way yet, they eventually will.

A true religion should be the most beautiful thing on earth. I love the beauty of the Catholic Church, warts and all, above everything else. For me there is no more beautiful way to worship in all the world; surely the truest religion would be wrapped in the greatest beauty. The Catholic Mozart said it best in his sublime “Ave, verum Corpus,” his magnificent tribute to our Lord in the Eucharist. A ten-year old boy in Lubbock, Texas saw the same beauty Mozart saw when, out of half a dozen different churches, the only one he wanted to visit again was Saint Elizabeth’s.

To my Protestant friends: all Protestants surely know that the oldest of their denominations cannot trace themselves back any farther than Martin Luther. Indeed, if all Protestants of modern European descent trace their family lineage back far enough, all their ancestors at one time were Catholic. The earliest of those ancestors who were Christians in the early Church always called themselves Christians, but at some point between the third and fourth centuries they began to call themselves Catholic (Universal) Christians to distinguish themselves from those who were calling themselves Christians but had signed onto the various heresies that were spreading throughout the empire.

Protestants will also see, when they study history, that the Catholic Church produced the Nicene Creed; that it collected and authenticated the books of the New Testament; that it defended the Western world from the violent advance of Islam into Europe; that it established the hospitals and universities of Europe in the Middle Ages; and that it was a Catholic who invented the printing press and published the first Holy Bible, so that the word of God could eventually be sent by book into every home in Christendom. Wouldn’t all these marks of distinction be signs of the true Church of Christ rather than the “harlot” mentioned by Martin Luther and others? As John Henry Newman, a nineteenth century convert from the Anglican Church, said about his conversion: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

I invite Protestants to reflect that thousands of denominations are a clear sign that a partial truth is in them, but certainly the whole truth cannot be in all of them, since they have added to or taken away from each other’s creeds thousands of times. Thousands of denominations do not make the one Church that Christ built upon the rock called Peter; for it was a Church (not Churches) that Christ promised the gates of Hell would never prevail against (Matthew 16:18). The lack of unity among Protestant Christians has been no less dangerous to the modern world than the growing lack of unity among Catholics today. As Aesop explained in his fable of the “Bundle of Sticks,” Christians who do not stick together will be easily broken, whereas it is impossible to break a huge bundle of sticks tied together.

I regret having been an on-again, off-again Catholic, slow both in my head and in my heart to hear the words of wisdom the Holy Spirit spoke to me in my youth. Once I might have been a priest. I threw that away. Then I threw away the truth of God when I left the Church. Miserable, I walked away from my first wife to start a long and isolated journey of my own.

Recently a dear friend of mine revealed that, when we first met, he noticed that something was missing in me. I believe that was surely so, and it may still be the case. Since Adam and Eve, I suppose something has been missing in all of us. A deep hole exists, waiting for what is needed to fill it up. And so I have learned in the most painful ways possible to look for what or who is missing; for signs that come in dreams, in coincidences, in narrow escapes, in seemingly chance meetings, in all the strange and winding curves of my life; signs that the Father has spoken words of truth to a stubbornly blind and deaf child. I hope and pray that by God’s amazing grace I have at last opened my eyes and my ears that I might learn to see, to hear… and to obey.”

Love,
Matthew

Why God still matters…

why-god-still-matters

karlo_broussard
-by Karlo Broussard

“Have you noticed how some of the New Atheists don’t even bother trying to disprove God’s existence? Your arguments in favor of God don’t even deserve a reply, they say, because not only does God not exist—He doesn’t even matter.

We don’t need God to explain the universe, they say. We don’t need Him to be moral or happy. And we don’t need Him to guide us or help figure things out—science can take care of that. Take away the need for God, they conclude, and the human urge to believe in Him disappears.

Q. Why do most atheists think that there necessarily has to be a conflict between faith and science?

A. One reason is because they [mistakenly] think science is the only rational form of inquiry, making all theological explanations unworthy of a rational person. Second, they think science is sufficient to explain the universe, thus booting any necessity for God out when it comes to explaining the universe.

Q. What’s the most effective way to show a non-believer that God does still matter?

A. In the DVD, I show that God matters because without Him we wouldn’t exist. That of course requires a proof for God’s existence, which I provide. I also think we can show the absurdity of rejecting God’s existence. If God doesn’t exist, then complete and perfect happiness is impossible, in which case life is absurd. Moreover, if God doesn’t exist, then there can be no moral obligation. By the showing the absurdities that atheistic “logic” leads to, unbelievers may come to reconsider their rejection of God.

Q. How does the rejection of God undermine objective morality?

A. It doesn’t necessarily undermine an objective knowledge of what is good and bad for human beings. This is something we can know given our human nature. Nature directs us to certain ends, the achievement of which is good and the frustration of which is bad. But the rejection of God does undermine the moral obligation to follow the ordering of human nature. If the dictates of human nature do not express the will of the Supreme Being, then there can be no obligation to follow it. How can there be any obligation to follow the natural moral law if there is no lawgiver behind it?

Q. You say that, without God, life falls into absurdity. Can you explain?

A. Why do we do the things we do? For the sake of happiness! [Ed.  this is where the Catholic argument begins.  If you ask anyone, “Aren’t we supposed to be happy?  They would immediately say, ‘Yes!’  Without the ‘Yes!’ to innately desiring and knowing happiness is supposed to be our natural state, and rejecting any state, plainly, which is less than that, is where the Catholic argument begins.  To intentionally, soberly desire less than happiness, is to exhibit unhealthy emotional symptoms.  The desire for happiness is rational, reasonable, possible, real, human, us.]  It [happiness] is the one thing we can’t [directly] choose, but everything else is chosen for the sake of it [happiness; to get to happiness].

Now, there are some desires we have as human beings that can be satisfied without God and thus experience happiness to a certain extent. The unbeliever can experience sensory pleasure, success and achievement, and the joy of loving relationships. [These may give pleasure for a period of time, but their satisfaction illusory; it fades.  We are still left hungry.  They DO NOT satisfy finally, in a complete way, which we deeply, deeply desire, hunger for, and NEED!!]

There are some desires, however, that can’t be satisfied without God—namely, the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge, love, goodness or justice, and beauty. Only God can satisfy these desires, because only God is infinite knowledge, love, goodness, and beauty itself. So, without God, it is impossible to be completely satisfied as a human being. We would be condemned to a life of perpetual dissatisfaction, which constitutes the absurdity of life.”

Love, faith, hope, truth,
Matthew

Pope to scientists: faith does not hurt science, it leads to greater truth

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Pope Francis receives a stethoscope from the President of the European Society of Cardiology, Fausto Pinto, as he attends the World Congress of the European Society of Cardiology Aug. 31 in Rome.

-by CAROL GLATZ, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
August 31, 2016

“VATICAN CITY – Because scientists can never be neutral in their research, they must not be tempted to suppress the truth and ignore the divine, Pope Francis told health care professionals.

“Openness to God’s grace, which comes through faith, does not weaken human reason, but rather leads it toward knowledge of a truth which is wider and of greater benefit to humanity,” he said Aug. 31 in an address to experts taking part in a world congress on cardiovascular research.

More than 32,000 professionals, including cardiologists, from 120 countries attended the weeklong gathering in Rome. Organized by the European Society of Cardiology, the annual congress seeks to exchange the latest and best practices in research and patient care.

Pope Francis, who traveled to the congress venue on the outskirts of the city, insisted that no one be denied proper medical attention and care.

By recognizing the full dignity of the human person, one can see that the poor, those in need and the marginalized should benefit from the care and assistance offered by public and private health sectors, he said.

“We must make great efforts to ensure that they are not ‘discarded’ in this culture, which promotes a ‘throwaway’ mentality,” he said.

Church teachings have always supported and underlined the importance of scientific research for human health and life, he said. “The church understands that efforts directed to the authentic good of the person are actions always inspired by God,” he said, and caring for the weak and infirm is part of God’s plan.

However, “we know that the scientist, in his or her research, is never neutral, inasmuch as each one has his or her own history, way of being and of thinking.

“Every scientist requires, in a sense, a purification; through this process, the toxins which poison the mind’s pursuit of truth and certainty are removed” in order to gain a greater understanding of reality, the pope said.

By being involved in healing physical illness, health care professionals have the opportunity to see “there are laws engraved within human nature that no one can tamper with, but rather must be ‘discovered, respected and cooperated with’ so that life may correspond ever more to the designs of the creator.”

That is why people of science should not let themselves succumb to “the temptation to suppress the truth.”

The pope told his audience that he appreciated their work, adding that “I, too, have been in the hands of some of you.”

At the end of his speech, the pope was presented with a stethoscope and a cross made from laminated marble heart-shapes.”

Job 38

Love & truth, praise Him! All you creatures of the Earth, praise Him! You stars of the sky, you heavenly bodies, praise Him, Who made you!!
Matthew

Sin? WTF? What’s that? Who cares? What’s the diff?

chastity

There’s a BIG diff. Holiness “integrates” the entire human person, as God intended, repairing the wounds of sin in that person and their community; and is achieved ONLY through His most merciful grace. Sin, the rebellion against God and His Holy Will, therefore, “disintegrates” the human person. We can see this now, here, in our lives through greed, lust, envy, pride, divorce, addiction, adultery, even atheism/agnosticism, heresy, and their counterparts all disintegrate the human person from what God intends. Praise His most holy name. Praise Him. Please, please pray for me in my struggles against my own temptations, that I might not be disintegrated in His sight. He has been so good to me! 🙂 1 Cor 9:27. Pray that I may turn from my sin, and LIVE!!!! 🙂

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-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

¨Bob is Bob,” and “Dan is Dan;” these statements are tautologically true. Yet we also say that “Bob isn’t himself today,” and this manner of speaking gets at something profound. We can, somehow, be more or less “ourselves.” But what does that mean, exactly?

It doesn’t mean that personhood changes or disappears, or that someone becomes someone else. Rather, it is a statement about wholeness, completeness, and integrity of life; or the lack of integrity and that absence of a proper order in life—being scattered, fragmented. And there is, ultimately, only one thing that can destroy integrity: sin.

Sin wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1849)

Sin is not an offense against an arbitrary standard concocted by a devious divinity. It’s an offense against reason and truth. As such, its effects are not only external, breaking the divine and eternal law, but also internal. It wounds human nature by destroying the proper ordering of life, by twisting nature to perverted counterfeits of the good it seeks. Sin makes us less ourselves.

All sin and vice lead us to lose ourselves, but some kinds more than others. This depends not only on the gravity of the offense, but also on the role that each virtue and vice plays in human life. One virtue is particularly important, and particularly neglected in our era: that of chastity. Chastity is especially important not because Christians are obsessed with controlling a particular, and personal, aspect of people’s lives, but because it reflects and informs integrity and self-possession throughout all facets of life.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift … Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. (CCC 2337, 2346) (Ed. Since when I was in novitiate and missioned to St John’s food pantry in Cincinnatti, where I heard the true, true maxim, oft since reheard, “You cannot give what you do not have!”)

The proper ordering of life is, ultimately, one of self-mastery and self-gift, for “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). Chastity is a virtue exemplifying both self-mastery and self-gift. Self-mastery, since “the alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2338). Self-gift, since “some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner,” and some profess vows “in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC 2349, 2337). Chastity, thus, is worth our special concern.

In today’s age, in a culture of explicit and unbridled and almost unavoidable unchastity, sin has harmed each of us, distorted your integrity and mine, in a drastic way. It is no surprise that so many people are “not themselves” and are unable to gather the scattered fragments of life. It may tempt us to despair, but we are comforted by our Savior and the confidence that “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom. 5:20). It is by grace, purchased at great price, that sin is expelled, virtue gained, and our selves made whole.”

Love,
Matthew

Science & Faith: visible & invisible, seen & unseen

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-mosaic from the crypt of Louis Pasteur, in the Pasteur Institute, Paris, France. Pasteur was given a state funeral by the French Government in 1895.

“Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life; the virtues of the Gospel had ever been present to him. Full of respect for the form of religion which had been that of his forefathers, he came simply to it and naturally for spiritual help in these last weeks of his life.” -Pasteur’s son-in-law and biographer, (Vallery-Radot 1911, vol. 2, p. 240)

“Little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.” ~Louis Pasteur

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-by Brian Jones, Brian is pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His writing has appeared in the New Blackfriars Journal, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He and his wife Michelle have three daughters.

“At the end of a class in early March, one of my students raised his hand and asked if there was any homework in ethics class. I was somewhat confused by the inquiry, since the student was currently not taking ethics. When he saw the expression of confusion on my face, he responded, “You know, in religion. Is there any homework in religion?” Finally, it clicked for me. This young man is currently in my moral theology class, and was wondering if there was any religion homework, which he was calling by the misnomer “ethics.” Unintentionally, the student was setting up an opportunity to review (and correct) one of the fundamental errors of the modern age, namely, reducing religion solely to the sphere of ethics.

Michael Tkacz, in his 2002 essay “Faith, Science and the Error of Fideism,” has drawn attention to this attitude, particularly as it concerns the relationship between faith and science. Borrowing from Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould, Tkacz calls this attitude NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria.

The position can be briefly summarized as follows: the realms of science and religion involve two separate orders of human rationality and experience, and they are distinguished by the two objects that define their subject, and so do not overlap with each other. From this conception, science is considered to be rational, public, and verifiable, whereas religious faith is considered to be non-rational, private, and unverifiable.

The point of this method of analysis is not to say that faith never uses rational modes of inquiry; rather, it is to posit that faith is not something that can be rationally established at any level. This contrasts with a proper understanding of science, since nothing in science is believed or thought to be true unless grounded in factually based evidence and verifiable data.

To posit that science is rational is simply to assert that the claims made by science can be demonstrably proven. Science seeks to explain the causes and reasons for things that occur in the order of nature, and is such that even if a particular cause cannot be identified at a given moment, science nevertheless presupposes that not just any reason can be eventually provided; it’s foundation must be in factual evidence. Theoretically speaking, through continuous observation and critical analysis, a rational explanation can be given. A causal explanation exists for everything, and it falls to the field of science to provide one.

A good example to consider would be the fiasco that surrounded the Malayasian jetliner that went down in early 2014. The story of the plane crashing would not cease to be covered in the media until a rational, factually based account of what truly happened in this tragedy, which lead to the plane’s eventual crash. Notice too, thankfully, the anger that resulted from some of the initial explanations given that were only later shown (via evidence) to be false reasons for what led to the plane crash. Everyone involved, whether it was the family members of the victims, or the airline personnel, was not satisfied until a fuller explanation was given, since a plane does not just go missing without sufficient reason. While the example does not necessarily apply to the domain of science in the exact same way, it does nonetheless reveal my point about the rational character of an explanation that science is expected to provide.

Since science is a rational explanation of the material order, then it is also public–the knowledge acquired is based upon a mind-independent reality. Our feelings, desires, or thoughts about the matter at hand are not involved in discovering and learning the truth. Unlike private emotions, desires, or even religious belief, knowledge is capable of being shared by others, and thus entails an objective, rather than a subjective, element. Finally, scientific knowledge is verified and confirmed by the good reasons it gives for holding particular explanations of things. The reason why X is the case is because there are sufficient reasons to show that it is so, and there are experiments that can be repeated by anyone with the requisite equipment and knowledge. The repeatability of results will yield the same explanations each time, something that is fundamental to scientific theories and their particular validations.

While a variety of responses could be given to the NOMA position just described, I want to briefly elucidate a much fuller account of the integral relationship between reality, history, science, and the very nature of religious faith. The separationist account between science and faith rests precisely on a mistaken notion of the content of religious faith.

For Gould, what establishes the rational, public, and verifiable nature of scientific reasoning is the fact that it is concerned with and treats the very order of reality. In contrast, religious faith does not concern itself with reality, for it is centered upon holding beliefs that contradict the scope and, one might say, certitude that is given in science. Moreover, it seems that religious faith does not portend to make any metaphysical or historical claims, but only provides a way of living with that reality of which science alone concerns itself. However, such a perspective is not in keeping with Christianity’s understanding of the faith, and Catholicism’s in particular. When one examines the teachings of the Catholic Church, what one is hopefully struck by is its continual claims regarding both history and reason.

For example, the doctrine of the Incarnation holds that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on a real human nature, was born in time, performed numerous miracles and healings, suffered and was crucified by Roman authorities, and rose from the dead three days after his death. We could also mention the creation account in the opening book of Genesis where we come to understand, among other things, that the underlying purpose of the story is to reveal “the fact of creation.” Aquinas mentions this very point regarding the proper way to interpret the creation account in Genesis:

“There are some things that are by their very nature the substance of faith, as to say of God that He is three and one … about which it is forbidden to think otherwise… There are other things that relate to the faith only incidentally … and, with respect to these, Christian authors have different opinions, interpreting the Sacred Scripture in various ways. Thus with respect to the origin of the world, there is one point that is of the substance of faith, viz., to know that it began by creation…. But the manner and the order according to which creation took place concerns the faith only incidentally.”

If the “manner and order according to which creation took place” does not belong to the essence of the faith, then studying and seeking to give a proper explanation of such an event and further processes stemming from it requires human minds to do just that. And such an explanation about the world, the order of nature, and all its processes, presupposes something outside of our minds to observe and better understand, but which we did not make.

When considering the examples given, is it not the case that these doctrines concern factual claims about reality? If Christ was not God, born into time, or if some archaeologist discovered the bones of Jesus buried deep in the ruins of ancient Palestine, would Christianity not crumble? What makes Christianity so unique among religious faiths is precisely its historicity: if any of the historical claims about the Christian faith were shown to be false, then its very foundation and legitimacy would be undermined. Religious believers have frequently failed to articulate that the object of our faith, of what is believed, is truth. Although knowledge and belief must be distinguished, they are nevertheless united in that what we seek to know and what we hold on the basis of the authority of another is nothing other than the truth. This was precisely the point St. Paul sought to make when he told the Corinthians:

“If what we preach about Christ, then, is that He rose from the dead, how is it that some of you say the dead do not rise again? If the dead do not rise, then Christ has not risen either; and if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless, and your faith, too, is groundless… If the dead, I say, do not rise, then Christ has not risen either; and if Christ has not risen, all your faith is a delusion; you are back in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:12-17)

Furthermore, the creation account in Genesis is, among other things, a METAPHYSICAL claim about the very structure and nature of reality: it is something to which human intelligence has access to and is able to better understand through repeated observation and experimentation. (Ed. that is to NOT say, Genesis does not have actual, simple, clear, demonstrable, factual, literal elements to it.  Roman Catholicism requires we believe in factual, literal, previously and now dead existent persons:  Adam & Eve.  Exactly how that is to be understood, is beyond my humble abilities and the scope of this blog post.  However, notwithstanding, the literal, actual, factual elements Catholics are required to believe by faith, requiring Genesis to be NOTHING more than a newspaper story limits God, and His beauty and wisdom, unnecessarily.  Let us not assume, in arrogance, that we understand either EVERYTHING there is to understand regarding the science nor the exegesis regarding Creation.  That position would “spit-in-the-wind” of human experience, and not withstand rational nor reasonable scrutiny.  Recall, “mystery”, used in the Catholic sense, is NOT unknowable; rather, it is infinitely knowable.  Sounds reasonable to me, your humble, favorite, applied scientist.)

St. Paul tells the Romans that man is able to rise to a knowledge of the Creator through the things he has made, those observable effects seen in the world. Revelation is here positing a philosophical position, namely, that the world is intelligible and the essences of things can be known by human intelligence. If God can be known to exist, this then could only be the case after we know and understand the essence of his effects in the natural world, those things “that he has made.” To have a real knowledge of the world existing outside of our minds is not a conclusion of religious thinking or scientific inquiry, but is presupposed by both.

The reliance on the following examples from Catholic teaching is meant to refute the Gouldian position that what belongs to the order of faith is entirely cut off from the real, thereby giving strength to the all-too-prevalent error that holds science alone is concerned with reality, and that faith is how believers seek to morally live with that reality. Catholicism’s ancient axiom is that the source of truth, whether it be from science, philosophy, history, or revelation, is the same. Believers and non-believers (and high school students) must continually be reminded that assenting to a scientific or religious claim can be based upon nothing other than the truth itself. As Catholic philosopher John Haldane reminds us in Atheism and Theism:

‘If one’s world view makes no metaphysical or historical claims then it has nothing to fear from these quarters, but equally it has nothing to contribute to them either; and this raises the question of what people think they are doing when they engage in personal prayer or sacramental worship. If Christianity is compatible with Christ’s having been a confused, trouble-making zealot Whose bones now lie beneath the sands of Palestine and whose exploits are no more than the self-serving fictions of people ignorant of the real events of His life, and with their being no reason to believe, and some reason not to believe, in the existence of a Divine Creator, then its claims to our attention are only those of a self-contained lifestyle and not of a true account of reality.’

Aut Deus, aut malus homo.  Either God, or very bad man.

Love,
Matthew

Why faith AND reason? Faith is reasonable? St Augustine says, “Yes!”

Faith-Reason-Sign

Olson_Carl
-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“Pope Benedict XVI dramatically underscored the importance of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) recently. In a series of general audiences dedicated to the Church fathers, Benedict devoted one or two audiences to luminaries such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Basil, and St. Jerome, while dedicating five to Augustine.

One of the greatest theologians and Doctors of the Church, Augustine’s influence on Pope Benedict is manifest. “When I read Saint Augustine’s writings,” the Holy Father stated in the second of those five audiences (January 16, 2008), “I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith.”

The relationship between faith and reason has a significant place in Augustine’s vast corpus. It has been discussed often by Benedict, who identifies it as a central concern for our time and presents Augustine as a guide to apprehending and appreciating more deeply the nature of the relationship. Augustine’s “entire intellectual and spiritual development,” Benedict stated in his third audience on the African Doctor (January 30, 2008), “is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of all men.”

This is a key issue and theme in Augustine’s Confessions, his profound and influential account of his search for meaning and conversion to Christianity. Augustine testifies to how reason puts man on the road toward God and how it is faith that informs and elevates reason, taking it beyond its natural limitations while never being tyrannical or confining in any way. He summarized this seemingly paradoxical fact in the famous dictum, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe” (Sermo 43:9).

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Falsehoods about Faith

There are, as we all know, many distorted and shallow concepts of faith, reason, and the differences between the two. For self-described “brights” and other skeptics, reason is objective, scientific, and verifiable, while faith is subjective, personal, and irrational, even bordering on mania or madness. But if we believe that reason is indeed reasonable, it should be admitted this is a belief in itself, and thus requires some sort of faith. There is a certain step of faith required in putting all of one’s intellectual weight on the pedestal of reason. “Secularism,” posits philosopher Edward Feser in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism,

“…can never truly rest on reason, but only “faith,” as secularists themselves understand that term (or rather misunderstand it, as we shall see): an unshakeable commitment grounded not in reason but rather in sheer willfulness, a deeply ingrained desire to want things to be a certain way regardless of whether the evidence shows they are that way.” (6)

For many people today the source of reason and object of faith is their own intellectual power. To look outside, or beyond, themselves for a greater source and object of faith is often dismissed as “irrational” or “superstitious.” As the Confessions readily document, Augustine had walked with sheer willfulness (to borrow Feser’s excellent descriptive) down this dark intellectual alleyway in his own life and found it to be a dead end. He discovered that belief is only as worthwhile as its object and as strong as its source. For Augustine—a man who had pursued philosophical arguments with intense fervor—both the object and source of faith is God.

“Belief, in fact” the Thomistic philosopher Etienne Gilson remarked inThe Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, “is simply thought accompanied by assent” (27). There is not and cannot be tension or conflict between reason and faith; they both flow from the same divine source. Reason should and must, therefore, play a central role in a man’s beliefs about ultimate things. In fact, it is by reason that we come to know and understand what faith and belief are. Reason is the vehicle, which, if driven correctly, takes us to the door of faith. As Augustine observed:

“My greatest certainty was that “the invisible things of Thine from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Thy eternal power and Godhead.” For when I inquired how it was that I could appreciate the beauty of bodies, both celestial and terrestrial; and what it was that supported me in making correct judgments about things mutable; and when I concluded, “This ought to be thus; this ought not”—then when I inquired how it was that I could make such judgments (since I did, in fact, make them), I realized that I had found the unchangeable and true eternity of Truth above my changeable mind.” (Confessions 7:17)

Getting through the door/portal of faith, porta fidei

However, while reason brings us to the threshold of faith, it seems, at least, implausible that ALL of Creation is a random incident/accident, and the fact that we are ignorant of how it comes to be is insufficient and irrational reasoning to deny the existence of the Divine, whereas accepting the proposal of the existence of the Divine seems rational, and refusal to do so due to ignorance, or what “fits” under a microscope, or can be understood by finite human reason —and even informs us that faith is a coherent and logical option—it cannot take us through the door. Part of the problem is that reason has been wounded by the Fall and dimmed by the effects of sin – human limitation, if you prefer. Reason is, to some degree or another, distorted, limited, and hindered; it is often pulled off the road by our whims, emotions, and passions.

But this is not why natural reason, ultimately, cannot open the door to faith. It is because faith is a gift from the Creator, Who is Himself inscrutable. In Augustine’s intense quest for God he asked: Can God be understood and known by reason alone? The answer is a clear, “No.” “If you understood Him,” Augustine declares, “it would not be God” (Sermo52:6, Sermo 117:3). The insufficiency of reason in the face of God and true doctrine is also addressed in the Confessions. Writing of an immature Christian who was ill-informed about doctrine, the bishop of Hippo noted:

“When I hear of a Christian brother, ignorant of these things, or in error concerning them, I can tolerate his uninformed opinion; and I do not see that any lack of knowledge as to the form or nature of this material creation can do him much harm, as long as he does not hold a belief in anything which is unworthy of Thee, O Lord, the Creator of all. But if he thinks that his secular knowledge pertains to the essence of the doctrine of piety, or ventures to assert dogmatic opinions in matters in which he is ignorant—there lies the injury.” (Confessions 5:5)

Augustine’s high view of reason rested on his belief that God is the author of all truth and reason. The Incarnate God-man, the second Person of the Trinity, appeals to man’s reason and invites him to seek more deeply, to reflect more thoroughly, and to thirst more intensely for the “eternal Truth”:

“Why is this, I ask of thee, O Lord my God? I see it after a fashion, but I do not know how to express it, unless I say that everything that begins to be and then ceases to be begins and ceases when it is known in Thy eternal reason that it ought to begin or cease—in Thy eternal reason where nothing begins or ceases. And this is Thy Word, which is also “the Beginning,” because it also speaks to us. Thus, in the Gospel, He spoke through the flesh; and this sounded in the outward ears of men so that it might be believed and sought for within, and so that it might be found in the eternal Truth, in which the good and only Master teacheth all his disciples. There, O Lord, I hear Thy voice, the voice of One speaking to me, since He Who teacheth us speaketh to us. (Confessions11:8)

Another example of Augustine’s high regard for reason and for its central place in his theological convictions is found in his experience with the teachings of Mani. As Augustine learned about the Manichaean view of the physical world, he became increasingly exasperated with its lack of logic and irrational nature. The breaking point came when he was ordered to believe teachings about the heavenly bodies that were in clear contradiction to logic and mathematics: “But still I was ordered to believe, even where the ideas did not correspond with—even when they contradicted—the rational theories established by mathematics and my own eyes, but were very different” (Confessions 5:3). And so Augustine left Manichaeanism in search of a reasonable, intellectually cogent faith.

Know the Limits

Reason, based in man’s finitude, cannot comprehend the infinite mysteries of faith, even while pointing towards them, however indistinctly. For Augustine this was especially true when it came to understanding Scripture. Early in his life, reading the Bible had frustrated and irritated him; later, graced with the eyes of faith, he was able to comprehend and embrace its riches:

“Thus, since we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the holy writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou might be sought. For, as to those passages in the Scripture which had heretofore appeared incongruous and offensive to me, now that I had heard several of them expounded reasonably, I could see that they were to be resolved by the mysteries of spiritual interpretation. The authority of Scripture seemed to me all the more revered and worthy of devout belief because, although it was visible for all to read, it reserved the full majesty of its secret wisdom within its spiritual profundity.” (Confessions 6:5)

The contrast between reading Scripture before and after faith is one Augustine returned to often, for it demonstrated how reason, for all of its goodness and worth, can only comprehend a certain circumscribed amount. While reason is a wonderful and even powerful tool, it is a natural tool providing limited results.

Man, the rational animal, is meant for divine communion, and therefore requires an infusion of divine life and aptitude. Grace, the divine life of God, fills man and gifts him with faith, hope, and love. Faith, then, is first and foremost a gift from God. It is not a natural virtue, but a theological virtue. Its goal is theosis —that is, participation in the divine nature (see CCC 460; 2 Pt 1:4). The Christian, reborn as a divinized being, lives by faith and not by sight, a phrase from St. Paul that Augustine repeated: “But even so, we still live by faith and not by sight, for we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope” (Confessions 13:13).

Recognize Rightful Authority

Humble receptivity to faith requires recognizing true and rightful authority. “For, just as among the authorities in human society, the greater authority is obeyed before the lesser, so also must God be above all” (Confessions 3:8). What Augustine could not find in Mani, he discovered in the person of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the Church’s teachings. All three are in evidence in the opening chords of theConfessions:

But “how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek Him,” for “those who seek shall find Him,” and, finding Him, shall praise Him. I will seek Thee, O Lord, and call upon Thee. I call upon Thee, O Lord, in my faith which Thou hast given me, which Thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of Thy Son, and through the ministry of Thy preacher. (1:1)

For Augustine, there is no conflict between Christ, His Body, and His Word. Christ, through His Body, demonstrates the truthfulness of His Word, as Augustine readily admitted: “But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me” (Contra epistolam Manichaei 5:6; see also Confessions 7:7). Holy Scripture, the Word of God put to paper by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, possesses a certitude and authority coming directly from its divine Author and protected by the Church:

Now whom but Thee, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of Thy divine Scripture to be over us? For “the heaven shall be folded up like a scroll”; but now it is stretched over us like a skin. Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom Thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life. (Confessions13:15)

Humility and Harmony

“The harmony between faith and reason,” wrote Benedict XVI in his third audience on Augustine, “means above all that God is not remote; He is not far from our reason and life; He is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.” Augustine’s life is a dramatic and inspiring witness to this tremendous truth, and it is why his Confessions continue to challenge and move readers today, 16 centuries after being written.

The young Augustine pursued reason, prestige, and pleasure with tremendous energy and refined focus, but could not find peace or satisfaction. It was when he followed reason to the door of faith, humbled himself before God, and gave himself over to Christ that he found Whom he was made by and for. “In its essence,” Gilson wrote, “Augustinian faith is both an adherence of the mind to supernatural truth and a humble surrender of the whole man to the grace of Christ” (The Christian Philosophy 31).

The Church Teaches

“Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths He has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 154

faith&reason

Love, Faith, and Hope,
Matthew