Category Archives: Fides et Ratio

Sexual orientation & gender identity: what does the science say?

real-love

“Washington D.C., Aug 27, 2016 / 07:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For most young people who experience feelings of gender dysphoria, the experience is in fact temporary, and a non-heterosexual orientation is not as fixed as sometimes claimed, a new overview of the relevant research says.

“Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood,” said the report, published in The New Atlantis Journal.

As many as 80 percent of men who reported same-sex attraction as adolescents no longer do so as adults. There were “similar but less striking” results for women. The idea of innate sexual orientation is “not supported by scientific evidence,” the report said.

Titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” the report reviews various research studies to examine claims about sexuality and gender.

It was authored by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, Ph.D., a biostatistician and epidemiologist now a scholar in residence at Johns Hopkins University; and by Dr. Paul R. McHugh, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
The report considers various claims like the basis and permanence of gender identity and sexual orientation.

It found there is a lack of scientific evidence for claims that gender identity is an innate property “independent of biological sex.” Scientific evidence also does not support claims that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body.”

Gender identity problems can arise for someone with Intersex conditions, where a person has ambiguous biological sex due to genetic abnormalities.

However, brain structure comparison of transgender and non-transgender individuals show only “weak correlations” between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations are not evidence that this identity has a basis in the biology of the brain.

Similarly, sexual orientation’s neurological basis can be overstated. Against the “born that way” claim, the report authors write: “While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation.”

The report also considered sexuality, mental health, and social factors.

Non-heterosexuals are two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

The authors weighed the evidence that non-heterosexual attractions, desires and behaviors may increase the risk of suffering sex abuse, or that sexual abuse may cause non-heterosexual attractions, desires and behaviors. They said that more research is needed before claiming a link between sex abuse and non-heterosexual attractions.

Non-heterosexuals do face elevated risk of adverse health and mental health outcomes. They are estimated to have a 1.5 times higher risk of anxiety and substance abuse than the heterosexual population. They face double the risk of depression and 2.5 times higher risk of suicide.

The transgender population, recently estimated to make up 0.6 percent of the total population, suffers a lifetime suicide attempt rate of 41 percent, compared to 5 percent of the overall population.
There is “limited, inconsistent and incomplete” evidence that social stressors like discrimination and stigma “contribute to the elevated risk of poor mental health outcomes for non-heterosexual and transgender populations.”

The report said clinicians and policymakers should not assume that models focused on social stressors offer a complete explanation for these health differences.

“Just as it does a disservice to non-heterosexual subpopulations to ignore or downplay the statistically higher risks of negative mental health outcomes they face, so it does them a disservice to misattribute the causes of these elevated risks, or to ignore other potential factors that may be at work.”

Adults who undergo sex reassignment surgeries continue to show a high risk in mental health, being about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and 19 times more likely to die by suicide compared to a control group.

Regarding therapies for children that delay puberty or modify sex characteristics of adolescents, there is “little scientific evidence” for their therapeutic value, the report said.

At the same time, “some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification.”

“There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender,” the report added.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Why Aquinas? How Aquinas? What Aquinas?

apotheosis of saint thomas aquinas zurbaran
-“Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas”, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631, Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain.

Randall_Smith
-by Dr. Randall Smith, PhD, Dr. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. Some days it can seem as though, if it weren’t for bad news, we wouldn’t have any news at all. Brutal acts of terrorism, political correctness run rampant, and a horrible election between perhaps the two worst candidates in America. It’s times such as these when we have to return to the important things – the things that will last and provide a solid foundation on rock, rather than sand. Which is precisely why I’m taking this occasion not to comment on any of our current troubles and write instead about Thomas Aquinas.

I’m sometimes asked, “What should I read by Aquinas?” This question usually comes from a person who has almost no acquaintance with his thought or writing, except perhaps a cursory experience years ago with the so-called “Five Ways,” the five “proofs” for the existence of God. They know that Aquinas is important; some even know that he has been called “the Common Doctor of the Church.” Interested in nourishing their faith, they think: “I should read some Aquinas. But what?”

Like people who decide they should “read the Bible,” and then get a short way into Exodus or Numbers only to regret their decision – “Isn’t there some easier way of doing this?” (There is: go to daily Mass) – so too there are those who decide they should “read some Aquinas,” pick up his great Summa of Theology, and get about three questions in before giving up in despair. “Wow, this stuff is hard.” 🙂 Uh-huh.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t know it from most of your high school religion classes, but theology can in fact be hard. It can make your head hurt (Ed. it does!) like the hardest bit of chemistry or advanced physics. Thomas’s Summa was meant as a “beginner’s” text. Why so many teachers feel it’s necessary to “dumb down” theology when they would never consider “dumbing down” chemistry, biology, or physics, I’ll never know. But they do, and that’s where many people find themselves.

So let’s say you want some of the wisdom of St. Thomas, but you’re a little intimidated by the Summa. You’re not alone in this. What do you do?

Well, you could start with a good introduction, like G. K. Chesterton’s The Dumb Ox or Ralph McInerny’s delightful First Glance at Thomas Aquinas (A Handbook for Peeping Thomists). Or, if you like listening, you could go to the website of the International Catholic University and get Prof. McInerny’s lively “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas.”

But let’s say you want to get right to reading some Aquinas. This shows a good spirit on your part. Where do you begin? I have a suggestion. A good place to begin for someone who isn’t used to reading medieval disputed questions is to begin with any of Thomas’s “sermon-conferences” on the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Ten Commandments. All of these were meant for an educated audience of non-specialists. They are not “dumbed down.” Thomas still challenges his listeners to think and think deeply. But they’re less technical than the Summa or Thomas’s commentaries on Aristotle.

Most of these texts have been published separately at one time or another. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little “trade secret.” If you want to find anything by Aquinas in English translation, go to the superb web site kept up by my former classmate, Dr. Thérèse Bonin: Thomas Aquinas in English: A Bibliography. It’s an invaluable resource.

But you can also buy all these treatises together in a volume entitled The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian. Thomas didn’t actually set out to write a single “catechism,” so the title is a bit misleading. But it’s fair enough because the editors have brought together in this one volume Thomas’s commentaries on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Hail Mary, and the Our Father – to which they have added at the end some material on the sacraments.

Regarding this material on the sacraments, the reader should exercise some caution. Thomas wasn’t able to finish the Summa before he died at the relatively young age of 49. What was left unfinished at the time of his death, though, was the final section of the Summa on the sacraments. So what his students did – out of their love for their teacher – was “finish it off” with material they found in some of Thomas’s earliest writings: his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. A noble gesture, but this would be like “filling in” your teacher’s final book, his magnum opus, the fruit of a lifetime’s learning, with material from his doctoral dissertation. So it’s worth exercising some care.

When the news is bad, or just plain silly, as it is pretty much all the time these days, why not skip it? Listen to McInerny talk about Aquinas instead of listening to the evening news. Read Aquinas on the Apostle’s Creed rather than reading The New York Times. Less fretting over the news, and more reflecting on the Good News.

C.S. Lewis used to say he rarely read the news. If there was anything important that he could do something about, he trusted his friends would tell him. As for the rest, he thought the best response to those things he couldn’t do much about — horrible wars, people dying, government scandals — was to fast and pray. If you truly believe that God is the Lord of History, then often the most practical thing you can do is pray. And now while you’re praying the Hail Mary or the Our Father, you can say to yourself: “Didn’t I read somewhere that Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on these prayers?”

Yes you did.”

STA
-the St Thomas Aquinas, OP, statue I keep on my desk, always in sight, for inspiration. Patron saint of students, pray for us!

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

n.b. I have found “The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian”, by St Thomas Aquinas/Ralph McInerny, very accessible. This is a collection of Lenten sermons by the Common Doctor given in 1273, the last year of his life.

Greek philosophy & Truth

Raphael_School_of_Athens
-Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’, 1504, please click on the image for greater detail.

The Catholic Church makes some rather strong claims, now and consistently throughout her two thousand year history.  These claims, while understood by serious Catholics, are in modernity, couched in such language as to deliver “truth-in-love” without necessarily exasperating or panicking the listener out of either fear, defensiveness, or anger.  These are not the hallmarks of intentional dialogue, either by secular mores or Christian.

Well and good, I say.  There is no rational, proper, or polite reason to put emotive obstacles in the way of potential candidates, listeners, aspiring admirers, or intellectual curiosity seekers of the Church.

However, for the sake of brevity and clarity, let us be clear here.  The Catholic Church’s primary claim, in a nutshell, is “We are made for happiness!”  Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?  Nah.  That almost everyone, except the mentally or emotionally ill/disturbed, sadists, or other misanthropes may take issue with.  Catholic thinkers, though, would argue even the negative Nells above are still seeking happiness.  It is irrational not to seek happiness.  The Church would add, though, for those who seek it through disordered means it is impossible to find; truly, completely, without equivocation.  Those merely in denial need not apply.  They will only add to their sorrows.  Truth is a bitch, because it is the hardest thing to hold and maintain.  It costs, but its rewards are sweet and infinite, transcending this mortal existence.

Another word the Church uses is beatitude, or utmost bliss.  We are made for this bliss, always have been, the Church would say, whether in Eden or Heaven.  The Greeks struggled to understand their/the world.  They understood intellectual or theoretical perfection such as a circle, or a triangle, or the aesthetic perfection of mathematics.  They also understood the imperfection of reality.  What made a tree a tree?  How did things unknown/unknowable grow into things recognizable and known?  How can this be?  It is from the earliest Greek thinkers the idea and word “soul” comes.

Early thinkers among the Greeks were known as Sophists.  Contrary to their name, they believed nothing was knowable, there was no objective truth or morality, and, basically, anything goes.  This type of thinking, ideas have consequences, led the Athenians into pointless wars, un-winable wars with its adversary Sparta.  When the Athenians had been defeated as an independent city-state for the last time, along came Socrates, who had been a soldier, but now began asking questions of “experts” whom, he assumed, should know the “why” of their expertise.  They did not.

David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates
-‘Death of Socrates’, Jacques-Louis David, 1787, oil on canvas, 129.5 cm × 196.2 cm (51.0 in × 77.2 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, please click on the image for greater detail.

For Socrates, “knowledge is virtue, and ignorance vice”.  What is a good life?  What is good?  What is evil?  How should we live?  He became so annoying to the elites of Athens with his questioning, making them them plainly appear the fools they were, Athens held a trial and condemned Socrates to banishment or death.  Few stories save the Passion of our Lord itself, strive in the Western mind to be more compunctive than the trial and death of Socrates.

Plato was the student of Socrates, and attempted to continue his work by opening a school.  The motto “Know Thyself” was placed over the door of Plato’s Academy and marked an important change of emphasis in Greek and other philosophy, one from studying external mysteries of the universe, to the equally, or moreso, daunting interior exploration.

For Plato, attempting to explain the nature of theoretical perfection of the mind versus the reality of the world surrounding us, those two realities bifurcated into a theoretical realm of perfection “Ideas”(Heaven?), as Plato called them, and the physical world, which Plato held askance as almost not real because of its constant change and nature of being in flux from the perfect.  As  advanced as Plato’s reasoning was, he could not reconcile the concepts of permanence and change in a single world.

Along comes Aristotle, a student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and inspiration for St Thomas Aquinas.  Aristotle rejected Plato’s two worlds concept.  Rather, Aristotle explained the physical world in terms of form (or theoretical/intellectual perfection) and matter, which changes.  He also explained the concept of the material world’s ability to change as act (fully realized reality) and potency/potential, the ability of something in its current state to become something else.  Act & potency made me think of kinetic and potential energy, but I digress.

Socrates had made knowledge the equivalent of virtue. Aristotle, however, emphasizes the fact that to know is not the same as to do. In the realm of acting the fact of free will makes it possible for us to choose in contradiction to what we know is right. He stressed, therefore, the importance of developing the virtues in man for the strengthening of the will and for the control of the animal appetites.”1

Through reason ALONE we can come to proofs by reason that God does indeed exist, even Aristotle acknowledged this.  It is beyond the scope of this post to explore them, but they exist.  You can google them.  🙂

Love & reason,
Matthew

  1.  Sullivan, Daniel J. (2015-09-23). An Introduction to Philosophy: Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition (Kindle Locations 696-698). Ravenio Books. Kindle Edition.

A Universal Church has universal opinions….shocker!!!!

A 3d graphic of the words in the question What Do You Think? This could be used to encourage people to participate in a survey or poll and ask their opinion or

Some people are surprised, or scandalized, or relieved, or whatever, to learn Catholics have differing opinions from each other, ALL THE TIME!!!  Some of this results from inadequate, eighth grade level catechesis, at best, and even then of questionable quality, but exactly how many sublime and nuanced truths as contained in philosophy and theology can you really communicate to college students, let alone eighth graders?

My humble opinion is, with the elevated level of education on the part of the laity, the Church has relied too long on its old, old model of the ignorant and illiterate peasant farmer or such, Catholic, Catholic ghetto, immigrant getting off boat, train, etc., and making a bee-line for the rectory where the good Father, the only literate Catholic within miles, will secure housing, food, employment, etc. for said peasant.  See where priests get there historical power, besides the obvious?  Not a healthy, mature, relevant, sustaining, Christian, 21st century, empowered (and, I hate that word, as used in “corporate”) model, but, still.  We’re still using that ancient model.  The world HAS changed, and so have most Catholics; maybe not clergy, sharing power is a BITCH, like surrendering one’s divinity to become mortal, or even going to the Cross, out of love, but they are dependent on their bishop for everything, ok.  And, a bishop is dependent on Rome to even be called Catholic.

Granted, not every Catholic wishes to enter into post-graduate theological catechesis, or the relevant discussion therein implied.  However, this is where REAL answers begin to emerge.  Sorry, not sorry.

Some may be scandalized to realize Catholics are not a monolithic thought block.  We’re not.  Once formally declared as teaching of the Church, however, things become more linear, they do, or they should. This is pretty much where Luther, and other Reformation leaders, fell off the boat. Obedience is a virtue. No matter how right I think I am, I will NOT disobey Holy Mother Church. She is my mother, after all. Lord, have mercy on my soul. Please!!!!

However, anyhoo, even with THAT, Catholics would have raging differences of opinions on EVERYTHING.  It’s very Catholic.  As I have mentioned MANY times and places, asking questions, and I know I have a problem with asking questions and with the truth, I like them both TOO MUCH!  But, asking questions is VERY Catholic!!  Deo gratias!!

Trigger warning!!!  🙂  Let’s have an example!!!!  Yeah!!!

Q.  Do homosexual unions have moral value?  (No ez ones in my class!!  They’re boring, anyway. 🙂 )

matthewcullinanhoffman_avatar_1435256636
-by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

Kardinal_Reinhard_Marx
-Cardinal Marx

“According to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, homosexual relationships have “worth,” a worth that must be recognized by the Catholic Church.

“We have to respect the decisions of people,” Marx told the media last week in Dublin after delivering a speech at Trinity College, according to a recent report in the Irish Times.

“We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth,” he said.

Consequently, according to Marx, the Church owes homosexuals an apology for its historical treatment of homosexuals. “As Church and society, we have to say ‘Sorry, Sorry,’” Marx said. He added that the Church should support “regulating” homosexual partnerships. “We as church cannot be against it.”

Marx’s statements seem to fly in the face of repeated affirmations by some of the Catholic Church’s most authoritative documents, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls homosexual sexual acts “acts of grave depravity” which are “intrinsically disordered,” and “can never be approved.” They also contradict the Vatican’s 2003 instruction on homosexual unions, which forbids support for legal recognition for homosexual unions of any kind.

St. Peter Damian, a cardinal who wrote the most extensive treatment of the issue of homosexual unions in the Church’s history, also had a very different understanding of the value of homosexual relations from that of Cardinal Marx.

According to Damian’s work on the subject, the Book of Gomorrah, written in the 11th century in response to a plague of homosexual vice among priests and clergy, homosexual unions are in no way beneficial to their participants; to the contrary, they are utterly destructive to them, spiritually, psychologically and even physically, throwing them into an emotional and spiritual confusion that makes them subject to demonic manipulation.

Damian writes that “this vice, which surpasses the savagery of all other vices, is to be compared to no other. For this vice is the death of bodies, the destruction of souls, pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the intellect, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, introduces the diabolical inciter of lust, throws into confusion, and removes the truth completely from the deceived mind.”

Damian recognizes that the logic of homosexual vice leads to ever-more degrading and self-destructive acts, a reality confirmed by those who have come out of the gay lifestyle. The homosexual relationship “violates sobriety, kills modesty, slays chastity,” writes Damian. “It butchers virginity with the sword of a most filthy contagion. It befouls everything, it stains everything, it pollutes everything, and for itself it permits nothing pure, nothing foreign to filth, nothing clean.”

The homosexual relationship removes “the armaments of the virtues, and to strike them down, exposes them to the darts of every vice,” Damian writes, adding that it “removes the foundation of faith, enervates the strength of hope, breaks the tie of charity, destroys justice, undermines fortitude, banishes temperance, and blunts the sharpness of prudence. And what more shall I say? Since indeed it expels every cornerstone of the virtues from the court of the human heart, it also, as if the bolts of the doors have been removed, introduces every barbarity of the vices.”

Damian notes that individuals who involve themselves in homosexual relationships suffer from anxiety and other psychological disturbances, a fact that has been repeatedly confirmed by numerous peer-reviewed medical studies in recent decades.

Of those who participate in such relationships, Damian writes: “His flesh burns with the fury of lust, his frigid mind trembles with the rancor of suspicion, and chaos now rages hellishly in the heart of the unhappy man while he is vexed by as many worries as he is tortured, as it were, by the torments of punishment. Indeed, once this most poisonous snake has sunk its teeth into an unhappy soul, sense is immediately taken away, memory is removed, the sharpness of mind is obscured; it becomes forgetful of God, it forgets even itself.”

In some ways Damian seems to foresee the behavior of the modern homosexual movement. Using a metaphor that seems particularly appropriate, Damian refers to the homosexual lifestyle as “the queen of the sodomites,” who enslaves and degrades her victims, taking away their peace and instilling in them a frenetic obsession with pleasure. He also notes that those who involve themselves in such behavior feel compelled to draw others into the same wretchedness, by becoming homosexual “militants.”

“This most pestilent queen of the sodomites renders him who is submissive to the laws of her tyranny indecent to men and hateful to God,” Damian writes.

“In order to sow impious wars against God, she requires a militancy of the most wretched spirit,” he continues. “She separates the unhappy soul from the fellowship of the angels, removing it from its nobility to place it under the yoke of her own domination. She strips her soldiers of the armaments of the virtues, and to strike them down, exposes them to the darts of every vice. . . . She gnaws the conscience like worms, burns the flesh like a fire, and pants with desire for pleasure. But in contrast she fears to be exposed, to come out in public, to be known by others.”

In contrast to Cardinal Marx and other Catholic prelates who have recently advocated affirming homosexual relationships or tolerating them, Peter Damian writes that we must avoid the “cruel mercy” of staying silent in the face of evil, and even warns that we become the “murderer of another’s soul” if we do not speak against the immorality of their behavior.

“Who am I to watch such a noxious crime spreading among those in holy orders and keeping silent, to dare to await the accounting of divine punishment as the murderer of another’s soul, and to begin to be made a debtor of that guilt of which I had been by no means the author?” writes Damian, adding later, “For how am I loving my neighbor as myself, if I negligently allow the wound, by which I do not doubt him to be dying a cruel death, to fester in his soul? Seeing therefore the spiritual wounds, should I neglect to cure them by the surgery of words?”

St. Peter Damian’s words were well-received by Pope St. Leo IX, who said “everything that this little book contains has been pleasing to our judgment, being as opposed to diabolical fire as is water.” Today, however, Damian’s warnings are increasingly ignored by European and American prelates in favor of an indifferent and even benign understanding of the sin of sodomy.”

Love,
Matthew

Science & Faith: visible & invisible, seen & unseen

pasteur_crypt_mosaic-660x350-1465976565
-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

Brian-Jones_avatar-75x75
-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

Sex as Summum Bonum?

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“To think sex is repulsive is a failure of true chastity and a moral defect.” ( S.T., II, II, 142) -St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Is sex the “greatest good”?  Certainly, it is a great good.  WOOT!!  WOOT!!  Ask any healthy adult person!!  Amen.  And, a gift from God!!!  But, heresy, I know, is it the GREATEST good, the Summum Bonum?  Our bodies may tell us “HELL, YEAH!!!”  Any flavah!!!  Any kind!!  Sky’s the limit!!  It’s ALL for US, baby!!!  The kinkier the bettah!!!  The weirder the bettah!!!  Marquis de Sade, eat your….whatevah, OUT!!!!  ALL 4 US!!!  HAhahahahahaha!

It has a purpose?  A reason?  Not just fun?  It’s supposed to be used for something?  Crazy talk.  Crazy.  There’s a plan?  An intention?  A reason?  WutchU talkin’ ’bout, Willis?  WutchU talkin’ ‘BOUT?????

talkinboutwillis

Animals crave sex, food, warmth, comfort, security, safety, etc., ALL the “creature comforts”.  Of course, silly.  Wait…what?  Why are you asking such a ridiculous question, Matt?  Matt, you pull out some doozers, but this is a DOOSIE!!!!  Matt!!!  How DARE you question the ULTIMATE TRUTH!!!  This is what we LIVE for, Matt!!!  Take the keyboard AWAY from that man!!!  He really has LOST IT NOW!!!

But, even accepting the theory of evolution, or its future cousins, plainly, faith and reason, fides et ratio, is sex the GREATEST good?

“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”  -Gen 1:27

The Catholic Church is often maligned as HATING SEX!!!!!  I can assure you, NOTHING could be farther from the truth.  I come out of Moral Theology seminars at the St John Bosco Conference at Steubenville University shouting to every young person I meet, “The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”  It does!!!  It truly does.

But, (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), it does NOT want you to be merely an animal.  You, as a human being, are MADE in the IMAGE & LIKENESS of G O D, H I M S E L F!!!!!!!  WOW!!!  WTF???? = Well, that’s fantastic!!!!  Wdtm??? = What does that mean???  Ah, the rub.  Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we?  Or, maybe you ARE just an animal???  I guess that’s up to you, but, last I heard, notwithstanding the cuteness of “all good doggies go to heaven”, a gentle answer for a child bereft of their favorite pet, not too many mentions of animals in Heaven??  🙁

So, if you DON’T want to go to Heaven, then go ahead, be an animal.  It’s NOT ALL GOOD.  🙁  But, if you DO want to go to Heaven, then, maybe, just maybe, that “IMAGE & LIKENESS” stuff has implications??  No matter HOW MUCH you gotta scratch that itch?  Maybe??

Can’t we just say “Thanks, God.  We’re outta here!!!” with that image & likeness stuff??  Can’t we?   Well,…no.  Darn!  You mean that stuff has implications?  Consequences?  Responsibilities?  Entanglements?  Requirements?  Such a great gift?  Really?  Really.

Summum bonum (Latin for the highest good) is an expression used in philosophy, to describe the ultimate importance, the singular and most ultimate end which human beings ought to pursue. The summum bonum is generally thought of as being an end in itself, and at the same time containing all other goods. In Christian philosophy, the highest good is usually defined as the life of the righteous, the life led in Communion with God and according to God’s precepts.

Saint Augustine states, clearly, God is the Summum Bonum in De natura boni (On the Nature of Good, written circa 399). Augustine denies the positive existence of absolute evil, describing a world with God as the supreme good at the center, and defining different grades of evil as different stages of remoteness from that center.

Experience soon teaches that all desires cannot be satisfied, that they are conflicting, and that some goods must be foregone in order to secure others. Hence the necessity of weighing the relative value of goods, of classifying them, and of ascertaining which of them must be procured at the loss of others. The result is the division of goods into two great classes, the physical and the moral, happiness and virtue. Within either class it is comparatively easy to determine the relation of particular good things to one another, but it has proved far more difficult to fix the relative excellence of the two classes of virtue and happiness.

The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. But even if a married couple were to video tape their sexual acts for their own use, without distribution to third parties, such creation and use of pornographic material would not be moral. The marital act is inherently intimate and private, and should not be recorded for any purpose. The material itself is also morally disordered when the contents contain explicit depictions of unnatural sexual acts, or explicit depictions of any type of perverse sexuality. Such acts are inherently gravely contrary to God’s plan for sexuality in human life.”

http://www.catholicplanet.com/ebooks/the-immorality-of.pdf

“c) Marital chastity subordinates sexual pleasure to communion. The pleasurable sensations of sexual activity culminating in orgasm are in themselves a private and incommunicable experience.  Hence, to focus attention on this experience and strive to intensify it as much as possible tends to make the other person into a means, a “sex object.” So, the Church teaches that spouses should pursue sexual gratification only in subordination to marital love.168 Marital chastity, by making the marital good itself central, makes it possible for the experience of loving cooperation in one-flesh communion to predominate and enjoyable sensations to take their proper, subordinate place in marital intercourse. Thus subordinated, erotic pleasure no matter how intense, is morally good (see S.t., 2–2, q. 153, a. 2, ad 2).

The point is clarified by John Paul II’s teaching that a man can commit adultery in his heart by looking lustfully at his own wife. He does not mean spouses may not look at each other with erotic desire or with the intention of arousing desire in themselves and each other. To look lustfully instead means to reduce “the riches of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the riches of the deep attractiveness of masculinity and femininity, to mere satisfaction of the sexual ‘need’ of the body.” The person looked at in this way is made into a sex object. Hence: “Man can commit this adultery ‘in the heart’ also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.” And a woman likewise can commit this adultery toward her own husband.169

d) If reason calls for abstinence, intercourse cannot express love. Even when it is not appropriate to engage in marital intercourse, people often are tempted and constrained to do so by sexual excitement and desire. Of itself, however, sexual drive does not express love; it is no more communicative than any other biological drive.

Outward behavior can express what is in one’s mind and heart only insofar as it is, not the result of a biological drive, but a free self-communication. Thus, if an uncontrollable nervous condition causes a man from time to time to blurt out “Omaha, Omaha!” everyone soon realizes that his “Omaha, Omaha!” is meaningless.

If his wife wants his agreement about anything important, she asks him to put it in writing. Likewise, to be expressive, sexual activity must be free, and to convey genuine love, it must tend to common benefit; unless freely chosen for the sake of common benefit, marital intercourse cannot express and nurture unselfish love.170

It follows that to be able to give oneself in marital intercourse so that the act means something, one needs self-control sufficient to be able to choose not to engage in intercourse when reason, considering all the relevant goods, calls for abstinence. At such times, love is expressed and fostered not by intercourse but by mutual support in abstaining cheerfully.

Consequently, marital love requires a husband and a wife to develop marital chastity, that is, to subordinate genital arousal and satisfaction to the reasonable claims of all the aspects of their common good as a married couple. By enabling the couple both to come together when appropriate and to abstain when appropriate, marital chastity empowers them to engage in sexual acts which truly embody love, rather than merely manifest an urge for inwardly focused, selfish self-satisfaction.171

http://www.twotlj.org/G-2-9-E.html

Use is the opposite of love.  How’s that for romantic?  Not bad, huh?  🙂

Love,
Matthew

What is fideism?

Leo XIII_heresy
(-such is true of all heresy or sin. There is always a drop of truth mixed in, attraction. That’s the bait. That is the intoxicant and the deceiver. Satan is the Prince of Lies. He always mixes a drop of truth in with the lies. Why else would we believe? If it were ALL lie? We’re not STUPID, you know.

However, if one does not look too closely, you are sure to miss the error. The Great Deceiver is a sly fox. Never underestimate him, or fall for that oldest of canards, that evil does not exist. The Devil loves that one. It’s his favorite. Definitely, an oldie but a BADDIE!!! Look around. Smell the air. Taste the times, and tell me, or much more importantly, yourself, that evil TRULY does not exist? TRULY? Heart of hearts?

That is why we MUST understand our faith, and be able to point out the error, and not merely, passively, succumb to the deception. Christian love is helping our neighbor see and think for themselves, accurately, accurately, truthfully.

“Thinking Catholic” is not an oxymoron. Quite the contrary. Quite. God gave us the gift of intellect. Let us praise Him in the most sincere manner possible, by striving to understand the ineffable; to know and do His will. Like incense rising from the altar of the mind, to the God Who created it!!! 🙂 )

reason-vs-faith

Fideism denies the role of reason in the act of faith. It says human reason has no role in the act of faith. Only faith is involved in the act of faith. This is a heresy for two reasons: 1) It denies the role/competence/ability of unaided human reason to reach certitude, and 2) that the supreme criterion of certitude is authority. Untrue.

Authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude. Even if God wills it in His supreme Divinity upon a creature supposedly capable of free will, then this willing of God violates the creature’s free will and there is therefore NO free will. It contradicts itself. It is not faith, in that faith is an act of the creature through free will. Feel me?

And, an act of faith cannot be the primary form of knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid – God has authority. Faith. See the contradiction?

Before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists. In the absence of the obvious, reason must be used to draw conclusion. Feel me?

We must conclude that He reveals such and such a proposition, i.e. His existence, again, reason.

And, again, that His teaching is worthy of assent. Again, reason.

So fideism contradicts itself all the way down! FEEL ME?

All of these questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. REASON!!!! Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge as a source of authority towards certitude, but logically ruins the entire idea of faith itself.

———————

There are “fundamentalist” adherents in every belief system who tend to answer all questions with a reference to an official document. Their faith consists of: “the Powers that Be say so and I believe it because they say so.” Even, maybe especially, Catholics who may embrace this attitude are fideists and, therefore, heretics. Human reason cannot be avoided in the act of faith. It cannot. Fideists can be atheists who believe anything written at Skeptic.com as well as Catholics who’ve memorized the Catechism.

But the Church says that such an attitude is heresy, starting at least as far back as 1348 AD. Unexamined loyalty to the teachings of the Church, only because the Church says so, can indicate an absence of faith.

As it says in the Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies:

“…the Church follows … cultural changes at work, which influence both her and society as a whole. Among the changes of the predominant culture, some particularly profound ones regard the concept of truth. … mistrust in the capacity of human intelligence to arrive at objective and universal truth – a truth by which people can give direction to their lives.”

Maybe it easier to see the error of this argument if we look at its inverse. Sometimes this really helps and clarifies intellectual understanding. Fideists’ mistrust is evident in the argument of the atheist that as all the churches don’t agree precisely on Truth, then there is none. The fundamentalist Catholic displays his mistrust openly when states his own judgement is not worthy, and so adopts whatever he reads or is told by authority (Vatican, Bible, CCC, Bishop, Priest) and so becomes a functional atheist himself, as he places his faith in books or people instead of God. In fact, he makes it clear that this mistrust extends to all humans, he defines anyone who begs to differ with his recognized authorities as incontrovertibly wrong.

This issue is of such concern to the Church, that not only does the Decree to Reform increase the the amount of time necessary to study philosophy with an emphasis on metaphysics for an Ecclesiastical program, but states: that:

“An excessive mixing of philosophical and theological subjects … ends up giving the students a defective formation in the respective intellectual “habitus”…. In order to avert the increased risk of fideism, and to avoid either a manipulation or fragmentation of philosophy, it is highly preferable that the philosophy courses be concentrated in the first two years of philosophical-theological formation.”

The Vatican increases the philosophy study from two years to three in a five-year course of study, and wants the bulk of it to happen before any concentration of theology. Yet, the fundamentalist described above is a creation of the Church he grew up in, most often. Historically, the standard form of catechesis for a Catholic child is to teach them the rules first and foremost and to suppress the philosophical questions and ignore spiritual formation. This is oddly and exactly the reverse of what Pope St John Paul II understood was necessary for the true evangelization of the person.

Christian faith is an adult faith. Children can only learn literal yes and no, being so young. The implication is that catechesis is REALLY an adult function, or needs to be, and infantile catechesis may actually be a contradiction in terms, or at least should focus on spiritual formation and philosophical questions so early, and not on the rules, i.e. conclusions of that inquiry. Feel me?

What if, raised without spiritual formation, philosophy or encouragement to trust their own ability to discern, the Catholic thinks, I know the Church should be enough, but it just isn’t. Why don’t I feel anything? Why is the Mass so empty? What’s the point, anyway? Does this make someone a “bad” Catholic, or just caught in the revolving door between fideism and metaphysics. (Hint: pick door #2! 🙂 )

No wonder so many Catholics, when faced with the reality of supernatural grace, of experiencing oneness with God, receiving a vision or gifted by a miracle, find themselves adrift in the midst of their Church. They’ve been taught not to trust themselves, and to, instead, practice fideism. They are often encouraged to ignore or deny their own encounter with the Divine, (“the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light!!” ) and mistrust their own perception of the Love, Joy and ineffable glory associated with their experience. i.e. read Amoris Laetitia

I love the Church so much, I quote here liberally from her documents. I don’t love the Church because the writings give me my faith, but because they validate my own rational conclusions concerning the revelations I receive through my own supernatural experiences. That is, I believe in my own capacity to arrive at objective and universal truth, just as I believe in yours. And it is the Church, the body of two millennia of cumulative understandings of individuals, that confirms those truths which are universal, or sometimes are only personal Spiritual Direction, yet equally truths.

blindfold_faith

Love, Faith, AND REASON!!!
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).

st__augustine_of_hippo_icon_by_theophilia-d9h9b29 (1)

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

Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804) – Philosopher, “Subjectivizer of Truth”

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)

kreeft21
-by Peter Kreeft, “The Pillars of Unbelief”, The National Catholic Register, (January – February 1988)

“Few philosophers in history have been so unreadable and dry as Immanuel Kant. Yet few have had a more devastating impact on human thought.

Kant’s devoted servant, Lumppe, is said to have faithfully read each thing his master published, but when Kant published his most important work, “The Critique of Pure Reason,” Lumppe began but did not finish it because, he said, if he were to finish it, it would have to be in a mental hospital. Many students since then have echoed his sentiments.

Yet this abstract professor, writing in abstract style about abstract questions, is, I believe, the primary source of the idea that today imperils faith (and thus souls) more than any other; the idea that truth is subjective.

The simple citizens of his native Konigsburg, Germany, where he lived and wrote in the latter half of the 18th century, understood this better than professional scholars, for they nicknamed Kant “The Destroyer” and named their dogs after him.

He was a good-tempered, sweet and pious man, so punctual that his neighbors set their clocks by his daily walk. The basic intention of his philosophy was noble: to restore human dignity amidst a skeptical world worshiping science.

This intent becomes clear through a single anecdote. Kant was attending a lecture by a materialistic astronomer on the topic of man’s place in the universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: “So you see that astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant.” Kant replied: “Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer.”

Kant, more than any other thinker, gave impetus to the typically modern turn from the objective to the subjective. This may sound fine until we realize that it meant for him the redefinition of truth itself as subjective. And the consequences of this idea have been catastrophic.

If we ever engage in conversation about our faith with unbelievers, we know from experience that the most common obstacle to faith today is not any honest intellectual difficulty, like the problem of evil or the dogma of the trinity, but the assumption that religion cannot possibly concern facts and objective truth at all; that any attempt to convince another person that your faith is true — objectively true, true for everyone — is unthinkable arrogance.

The business of religion, according to this mindset, is practice and not theory; values, not facts; something subjective and private, not objective and public. Dogma is an “extra,” and a bad extra at that, for dogma fosters dogmatism. Religion, in short, equals ethics. And since Christian ethics is very similar to the ethics of most other major religions, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or not; all that matters is whether you are a “good person.” (The people who believe this also usually believe that just about everyone except Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson is a “good person.”)

Kant is largely responsible for this way of thinking. He helped bury the medieval synthesis of faith and reason. He described his philosophy as “clearing away the pretensions of reason to make room for faith” — as if faith and reason were enemies and not allies. In Kant, Luther’s divorce between faith and reason becomes finalized.

Kant thought religion could never be a matter of reason, evidence or argument, or even a matter of knowledge, but a matter of feeling, motive and attitude. This assumption has deeply influenced the minds of most religious educators (e.g., catechism writers and theology departments) today, who have turned their attention away from the plain “bare bones” of faith, the objective facts narrated in Scripture and summarized in the Apostles’ creed. They have divorced the faith from reason and married it to pop psychology, because they have bought into Kant’s philosophy.

“Two things fill me with wonder,” Kant confessed: “the starry sky above and the moral law within.” What a man wonders about fills his heart and directs his thought. Note that Kant wonders about only two things: not God, not Christ, not Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection and Judgment, but “the starry sky above and the moral law within.” “The starry sky above” is the physical universe as known by modern science. Kant relegates everything else to subjectivity. The moral law is not “without” but “within,” not objective but subjective, not a Natural Law of objective rights and wrongs that comes from God but a man-made law by which we decide to bind ourselves. (But if we bind ourselves, are we really bound?) Morality is a matter of subjective intention only. It has no content except the Golden Rule (Kant’s “categorical imperative”).

If the moral law came from God rather than from man, Kant argues, then man would not be free in the sense of being autonomous. This is true, Kant then proceeds to argue that man must be autonomous, therefore the moral law does not come from God but from man. The Church argues from the same premise that the moral law does in fact come from God, therefore man is not autonomous. He is free to choose to obey or disobey the moral law, but he is not free to create the law itself.

Though Kant thought of himself as a Christian, he explicitly denied that we could know that there really exists (1) God, (2) free will, and (3) immorality. He said we must live as if these three ideas were true because if we believe them we will take morality seriously, and if we don’t we will not. It is this justification of belief by purely practical reasons that is a terrible mistake. Kant believes in God not because it is true but because it is helpful. Why not believe in Santa Claus then? If I were God, I would favor an honest atheist over a dishonest theist, and Kant is to my mind a dishonest theist, because there is only one honest reason for believing anything: because it is true.

Those who try to sell the Christian faith in the Kantian sense, as a “value system” rather than as the truth, have been failing for generations. With so many competing “value systems: on the market, why should anyone prefer the Christian variation to simpler ones with less theological baggage, and easier ones with less inconvenient moral demands?

Kant gave up the battle, in effect, by retreating from the battlefield of fact. He believed the great myth of the 18th-century “Enlightenment” (ironic name!): that Newtonian science was here to stay and that Christianity, to survive, had to find a new place in the new mental landscape sketched by the new science. The only place left was subjectivity.

That meant ignoring or interpreting as myth the supernatural and miraculous claims of traditional Christianity. Kant’s strategy was essentially the same as that of Rudolf Bultmann, the father of “demythologizing” and the man who may be responsible for more Catholic college students losing their faith than anyone else. Many theology professors follow his theories of criticism which reduce biblical claims of eyewitness description of miracles to mere myth, “values” and “pious interpretations.”

Bultmann said this about the supposed conflict between faith and science: “The scientific world picture is here to stay and will assert its right against any theology, however imposing, that conflicts with it.” Ironically, that very “scientific world picture” of Newtonian physics Kant and Bultmann accepted as absolute and unchangeable has today been almost universally rejected by scientists themselves!

Kant’s basic question was: How can we know truth? Early in his life he accepted the answer of Rationalism, that we know truth by the intellect, not the senses, and that the intellect possesses its own “innate ideas.” The he read the Empiricist David Hume, who, Kant said, “woke me from my dogmatic slumber.” Like other Empiricists, Hume believed that we could know truth only through the senses and that we had no “innate ideas.” But Hume’s premises led him to the conclusion of Skepticism, the denial that we can ever know the truth at all with any certainty. Kant saw both the “dogmatism” of Rationalism and the skepticism of Empiricism as unacceptable, and sought a third way.

There was such a third theory available, ever since Aristotle. It was the common sense philosophy of Realism. According to Realism, we can know truth through both the intellect and the senses if only they worked properly and in tandem, like two blades of a scissors. Instead of returning to traditional Realism, Kant invented a wholly new theory of knowledge, usually called Idealism. He called it his “Copernican revolution in philosophy.” The simplest term for it is Subjectivism. It amounts to redefining truth itself as subjective, not objective.

All previous philosophers had assumed that truth was objective. That’s simply what we common-sensically mean by “truth”: knowing what really is, conforming the mind to objective reality. Some philosophers (the Rationalists) thought we could attain this goal through reason alone. The early Empiricists (like Locke) thought we could attain it through sensation. The later skeptical Empiricist Hume thought we could not attain it at all with any certainty. Kant denied the assumption common to all three competing philosophies, namely that we should attain it, that truth means conformity to objective reality. Kant’s “Copernican revolution” redefines truth itself as reality conforming to ideas. “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects…more progress may be made if we assume the contrary hypothesis that the objects of thought must conform to our knowledge.”

Kant claimed that all our knowledge is subjective. Well, is that knowledge subjective? If it is, then the knowledge of that fact is also subjective, et cetera, and we are reduced to an infinite hall of mirrors. Kant’s philosophy is a perfect philosophy for hell. Perhaps the damned collectively believe they aren’t really in hell, it’s all just in their mind. And perhaps it is; perhaps that’s what hell is.”

Psalm 40

Love, and as my mother always encouraged, wise woman that she was, “Matthew, (Mashew, it came out as when she was feeling particularly affectionate towards me) keep a simple faith.”  Wise woman, wise, and loving.

Mashew 🙂

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 6, The Theological Virtue of Hope – Little Girl Hope

hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

“The French Catholic layman Charles Péguy (1873-1914) wrote a beautiful poem that can make the virtue of hope more tangible for us. The poem opens with the striking line, “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.”85 The poem continues:

“Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in My creation . . .
That in order really not to see
Me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for each other . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me. (n.b. theologically, God cannot be surprised…)
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better . . .
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of Our grace.
And I’m surprised by it Myself.
And My grace must indeed be an incredible force.”
86

Péguy employs striking metaphorical and poetical images here to suggest the power of hope, indicating to us how surprising hope can be when we experience degradation, deprivation, suffering, and evil in the world. He depicts Hope in the poem as a little girl who has two older sisters, Faith and Love. Hope is the innocent, wide-eyed, trusting little child:

“What surprises Me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted. Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman . . .
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of My Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.”87

Our hope should make us feel every day more and more little — like a small child who relies on God his Father for everything. This life of spiritual childhood has been recommended by many saints, notably St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is actually indicative of Christian maturity and has nothing to do with childishness. Hope is a child, walking between her two older sisters: wide-eyed and innocent, trusting and joyful. Such should be the shape and character of our own hope. Can a person who is totally imbued with this sort of hope ever be completely overtaken by despair, however terrible the burdens and cares of this life? The depressed person may indeed often feel overwhelmed; but this need not be a cause for final despair. Just as we cannot imagine an innocent little girl giving in to total despair in the face of setbacks or contradictions, so the person with hope can endure even these things with serenity and perseverance.

To understand the power of hope, we can examine the vices that run contrary to the virtue of hope. Regarding these, St. Augustine wrote, “There are two things which kill the soul, despair and presumption.”

The Catechism lists them under the First Commandment as sins against hope:

2091 By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice — for the Lord is faithful to His promises — and to His mercy.

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high) or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

When we fall into presumption, we do not have hope, because we mistakenly assume that we have already arrived at the goal. This is a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride. The second vice contrary to hope is probably more common, and a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride, despair. Certainly this is the greater temptation for those individuals suffering from depression. We sometimes hear it said that a person has “fallen into” despair. But despair is not actually something we “fall into”; in the end, it is something we choose. To despair means to deny that the Lord wants to or can forgive or assist us. Even the severest depression, however dark, does not entail despair in this sense.

In Dante’s Inferno, the inscription written over the gates of hell is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Final despair (I refer here not to the difficulties with hope of the depressed person) is the state proper only to the damned, of those who no longer have the possibility of being saved. To be utterly without hope is to be in a hellish state. So you could say that total despair in this life is something of an anticipation of damnation. As St. Isidore put it, “To despair is to descend into hell.” Total despair is a sort of hell on earth, where suicide may appear to be the only option. This is why the person who feels utterly hopeless finds it so difficult to summon the will to continue living.

For example, listening to accounts of addiction given by those who have recovered from drug and alcohol dependence, one can see that the life they describe is simply a state of profound despair — a sort of hell on earth. This is what a person experiences when he places his ultimate hope in a bottle, a needle, or a pill. Depression itself is not equivalent to this kind of despair, although it can predispose and incline a person to despair, as anyone who has experienced it knows too well. It is a great trial of faith to overcome this tendency. But it can be overcome with all the means discussed in this book, and especially with God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not so much sin as despair which casts us into hell.” We may fall into sin, as even the just man sins seven times a day. But in hope, we become a repentant sinner and therefore, through Confession, a forgiven sinner. Sin never has to have the last word. Hope means we do not have to be the people we were. But despair makes our sin the last word about us, even a definitive word, because despair denies the possibility of forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable if we do not despair, if we seek God’s merciful forgiveness. Likewise, every addiction, every vice, can be overcome if we do not give in to despair.

This helps us to understand that mysterious Gospel passage which speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) that Jesus says cannot be forgiven. This sin is simply the refusal to accept the grace of forgiveness. It is an obstinate despair that refuses God’s mercy. As the Catechism states:

1864 “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of His sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”88

The contrast between St. Peter’s repentance and Judas’s despair illustrates this: both men sinned grievously, but Peter repented with tears of contrition. He did not abandon hope. Peter’s repentance led him to become one of the greatest saints. Judas despaired, and this despair led him to take his own life.

To say that hope is a “theological” or “supernatural” virtue is to say that it is fundamentally a gift, the result of grace. To possess this hope, we must be in a state of sanctifying grace, which we can be sure of when we have confessed grave sins we are aware of. But for this hope to grow in our hearts and operate powerfully in our lives, we should pray that our hope will be increased; we should ask God to increase our hope. Our will and our effort do play a role here, since God wants us to cooperate freely with the graces He grants. “Lord, increase my hope” should be an aspiration that comes to us often, especially in times of difficulty.”

85 Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, trans. David L. Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 3.
86 Ibid., 3-7.
87 Ibid., 7-8.
88 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 216-220). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & Hope,
Matthew