Category Archives: Atheism

Easter: liberal theology is as empty as the tomb


-by Trent Horn

“In a 2009 speech given at an atheistic conference, Daniel Dennett coined the term “deepity” to refer to statements that seem profound at first glance but upon closer examination turn out to be trivially true at best (“Love is just a word”) or just nonsense (“Have faith in faith”). Some atheists say theology is just a bunch of “deepities,” but this is like saying meaningless “junk philosophy” shows all of philosophy is worthless.

Indeed, you can find “junk theology” that disparages good theology in the New York Times’ recent interview with Serene Jones (2019), a Protestant minister and president of Union Theological Seminary. Here are a few of her “deepities”:

  • “[The] empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.”
  • “Living a life of love is driven by the simple fact that love is true.”
  • “The message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death.”

When I hear this kind of talk, I think of the episode of the Simpsons where Rev. Lovejoy is selling ice cream flavors such as “Blessed Virgin Berry” and “Command-mint.” He then offers Lisa “Unitarian ice cream” and hands her an empty bowl. Lisa remarks, “There’s nothing here,” to which Lovejoy responds, “Exactly.” Unitarians who have “no shared creed” are just one example of theologies that sound lofty and good but are without any support beyond mere sentimentalism.

A good way to expose the emptiness of these “deepities” is to ask some simple questions: How is love stronger than death? What makes love “true”? In doing this, you can show that the person is just dressing up secular, hopeful thinking with religious language.

I also notice adherents of liberal theology often defend their position by casting traditional concepts of God and faith as being for simpletons. However, their hasty dismissals often reveal their own simplistic grasp of theology. For example, Jones says, “Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”

I expect this misrepresentation of the Trinity from village atheists, but not from a “Christian” minister who should understand that God became man to freely offer himself as a sacrifice of love that outweighs the evil of our sins.

Jones also says Christians who are “obsessed” with the Resurrection have a “wobbly faith.” She writes, “What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.” Tell that to St. Paul who declared, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Jones tries to defend her assertion about the unimportance of the Resurrection by saying, “the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.”

It’s true the shorter ending of Mark does not contain an appearance of the resurrected Jesus, but it certainly contains a resurrection account because the young man at the tomb tells the women, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7, emphasis added).

This leads to another good question to ask: How is a non-miraculous Christianity any different than morally upright atheism?

Jones says hell doesn’t exist; it is the reality we create when we “reject love,” and Easter represents “love triumphing over suffering.” But you can be an atheist who puts hope in love and patiently endures suffering, so why even bother being a Christian? Indeed, when the interviewer asks if he’s a Christian even though he denies Jesus’ miracles, Jones answers, “Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.”

Now, Jones might say her theology isn’t equivalent to atheism because she believes in God, but her God is so limited and disinterested in human affairs that he might as well be nonexistent.

For example, Jones says she doesn’t worship an all-powerful, all-knowing God because that’s a product of “Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology” (even though Greco-Roman deities were limited in power, knowledge, and goodness). She also claims God doesn’t answer prayers and instead of “controlling the world” he merely “invites” us into love, justice, and mercy.

This God might as well be a self-help book you pick up every few months for advice. In fact, for some liberal theologians, God is merely a projection of human ideals and isn’t real in any meaningful sense of the word.

John Dominic Crossan, one of the world’s most famous New Testament scholars, was once asked, “During the Jurassic age, when there were no human beings, did God exist?” Crossan responded, “Meaningless question” and went on to say that God doesn’t exist apart from faith. But with this understanding of God, it’s not surprising that places like the United Church of Canada have a minister who is a self-professed atheist. One of her books’ titles perfectly summarizes the essence of liberal theology: With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe.

It’s true that practicing virtue will make you happy, but that’s because God made us to be virtuous people, and we are happy when we live according to the nature he gave us. But St. Paul strikes the deathblow to both secular and Christian liberalism that relies on virtue alone for salvation: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:14-15).

Our Easter joy is not found in something meaningless such as “hope in hope” or “faith in faith.” It is grounded in the fact of Christ’s Resurrection. Indeed, that is the only fact that explains the advent of Christianity in an ancient world that didn’t build religions around platitudes. The only reason the disciples did not think their rabbi was just another failed messiah like all the others was because he proved he was not a failure to them three days after his crucifixion.

Through it, we have true hope that God will deliver us from sin we cannot conquer on our own and raise us to new life, both in our souls in this life and in our bodies in the next. God proved “love is stronger than death,” not through humanistic sentiment but through glorious triumph. As Christ himself declared, “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).”

Love, & Easter Joy!!!
Matthew

Atheism & Soul


-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.

“In last summer’s movie, “Yesterday,” struggling musician Jack Malik finds enormous fame and fortune after he discovers that, following a global blackout, everyone in the world has forgotten about the iconic music band, the Beatles. Everyone except him, that is. His rapid-fire release of various Beatles songs, as if they were his own, brings him vast attention, esteem and praise. But he is miserable.

How can a man who has thousands of fans screaming in adulation, large sums of money, and the company of the rich and famous possibly be miserable? The answer becomes painfully obvious as the movie progresses: Unless we are at peace on the inside, the outside circumstances of our lives, even if spectacular, will not make us truly happy.

It’s an old lesson in new wrapping. Indeed, a great deal of the history of human thought and experience is represented by the movement between Jack’s interior and exterior life. Outside ourselves, using our senses, we become aware of things that have shape, mass and weight—that move around and take up space. On this inside, however, is a different realm. When Jack is forced to confront his deceptions and his guilty conscience, the pain was his alone: it could not be directly seen or felt by others. Jack successfully conceals his inner anguish for much of the movie.

The early Greek philosophers were deeply concerned with trying to figure out the world around us. Thales said it was all, at root, water. Others said it was air, or a combination of elements (earth, air, wind, and fire). Democritus said it was tiny, indestructible pieces of matter that he called “atoms.” In time, the focus shifted from the things we experience with our senses to experience itself. Plato saw the inside world and the outside world as powerful evidence of two irreducible realms—one physical, the realm of matter, and the other spiritual, the realm of forms. A long line of thinkers after him drew the same conclusion.

St. Augustine discovered the importance of this distinction while reading works from these thinkers, and wrote in his Confessions, “These books served to remind me to return to my own self.” Having long focused on trying to find God through his senses, he now turned to his own soul and found a realm very different from the material world. Accompanying the discovery of his soul was a life-changing discovery of God, who could not be reduced to anything material.

This distinction between the inside and outside aspects of our experience is not a trivial matter. Some of the most important features of lives are on the “inside” and not grasped by our senses. We cannot see each other’s thoughts, choices, or feelings, for instance. We know that others have thoughts and feelings, but we only know what they are if they are revealed to us through signs or “incarnations” of those thoughts and feelings, or if the person tells us. We might, to some degree, understand his thoughts and share his feelings, but we cannot have them—they are his alone, existing in his own interior life.

Atheist materialism has no good explanation for the interior/exterior distinction. Inevitably, atheists run into contradictions when they try to explain our mental experiences by materialistic explanations. The influential eighteenth-century philosopher, David Hume, for instance, famously denied there is any evidence that there is a self (“I”) since it cannot be directly observed with our senses. Yet he couldn’t avoid using the word “I” constantly in his writings.

Stephen Hawking, (Ed. who famously could not even IMAGINE, obstinately, imho,  anything beyond time, though physicists are required to imagine all kinds of unseeable things) the famous theoretical physicist and atheist, in The Grand Design (2010), asserted that all our experiences of moral “freedom” are just shorthand ways of referring to complex and predetermined material processes that completely explain everything we do. He did not seem to see, however, that if this is true then everything in his book is entirely the product of material processes. Whether those material processes tell us anything true about the real world cannot be known since everyone who disagrees with Hawking is thinking and saying exactly what material processes are making them think, too. Hawking (and all atheists) write as if they, and they alone, transcend material processes and judge that people who believe in God or the soul are incorrect. They make these claims while denying the existence of anything other than blind, purposeless material causes.

At a certain point, the atheist chooses to deny the reality of the spiritual world. Even beyond the serious intellectual problems raised by this move, this choice is also tragic. It is tragic because the real depth and beauty of the world cannot be discovered by reducing everything to material causation—it can only be discovered by noticing that material things are all signs that point beyond themselves. The smile and caress of a mother invites her child to discover unconditional love. A teacher’s correction of misbehavior invites the student to discover the moral law. The changing world around us invites us to consider the unchanging and eternal source of all dependent beings: God.

Let us pray that, with St. Augustine, atheists and theists alike return to the mysterious depths of their own souls and discover the material world as a vast collection of signs that point us to another realm. Through this same soul, we can reach out to the God who is the source of it all. After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that all the ways of coming to discover God find their point of departure either in reflecting on the outer, physical world or in pondering the various signs of our inner, spiritual soul (31-32). Reflecting on the physical world, conscious that we do so as a spiritual soul, we learn that everything is speaking to us of God (Psalm 19:1-2).”

Love, and truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments 2


-by Karlo Broussard

Recently, we looked at an objection that argues God can’t be immutable and at the same time be the universal cause of temporal effects because that would entail God having to change in his acts—acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

We showed that this objection fails because it wrongly assumes God acts in time and that there’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change.

But some atheists counter along the lines of an objection that St. Thomas Aquinas deals with in Summa Contra Gentiles 3.35: How can there be new effects brought about in time with no new acts in God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to act anew in order to bring about new effects? But if he acted anew for every new effect, then God would undergo change.

It seems that if we affirm God’s immutability we must deny that he’s the creator of temporal effects. If we affirm that God is the creator of temporal effects, which his role as the universal cause of all things entails, it seems we must deny his immutability.

What should we make of this counter?

Notice the assumption: new acts are necessary to bring about new effects. But it’s not necessarily true that something must perform new acts in order to bring about new effects. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful.

Consider a state leader who signs a bill of law and determines that it shall take effect and become binding one month after its signing. A new decree wouldn’t be necessary for the binding power of the law to come into existence when its appointed time arrives. The law would take effect at its allotted time due to the decree made a month before.

The lawmaker could even stipulate that the law be only temporarily binding, specifying not only when the law takes effect (a month subsequent to the signing), but also the time when the law ceases to have binding power (perhaps a year after the law goes into effect). So, by one act, the lawmaker would determine not only the new effect of the beginning of the law but also the new effect of the law no longer having binding power. And when each of those new effects would come to be—when the binding power of the law actually begins and ends—it would be due to the lawmaker’s one act.

Similarly, by a single act of intellect and will God specifies every aspect of a thing’s being, including the moment of time at which a thing will come into existence, the moments at which it will begin to act and cease to act, and the moment at which it will go out of existence—that is, if it’s the type of thing that can naturally go out of existence, unlike a human soul or angels.

As we saw in the article linked above, this is a necessary conclusion based on the fact that God is the first and universal cause. For if he only caused the existence of something and its activity, and not the time at which that thing comes into existence or acts, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal mode of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality.

Since that can’t be, we know God must not only cause the existence and action of a thing but the particular moment in the flow of time at which a thing exists and acts. And he does so by the one eternal act of intellect and will.

So just as a lawmaker can stipulate in one decree when a law begins and ends, and the binding power of that law begins and ends based on that one decree, so too God in one eternal decree determines the moments in time when an effect will come into existence and go out of existence, and when that effect comes into or goes out of existence it will be due to the one act of God’s intellect and will.

But an atheist might counter: It’s one thing to say that multiple effects can be determined by a single act when the “effect” is an abstraction and the determining action is an act of the mind, like when a law is determined to have and not have binding power. It’s another thing to claim, on God’s behalf, that a single act of the will can produce multiple effects in reality at different moments in time.

This counter fails on multiple fronts. First, it doesn’t take into account that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. His intellectual decree that some things come into existence and go out of existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time is identical to the single act of will by which he produces those effects.

Second, it wrongly assumes that when the effects become real they are necessarily temporally separated from when they are conceived in the mind, like when a house is actually built as opposed to the conception of its allotted time to be built in the mind of the contractor.

But with God this is not so. He doesn’t have to wait for the allotted time to arrive in order to produce the effect. All moments of time and the events that make up those moments are present to God simultaneously (see Summa Theologiae I:14:7, 13). As such, God is able to produce the multiple effects at their allotted times by a single act of his eternal will. The cause-effect relationship between those effects at each moment in time and God’s causal activity is like the cause-effect relationship between the knife cutting the orange: it’s simultaneous.

Third, this counter loses sight of God’s omnipotence. A rational creature might not be able to produce new effects at different moments of time without new causal action. But that doesn’t mean no rational being could do so. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “If [a rational being’s] act of will were of itself sufficient to produce the effect, the effect would follow anew from his previous decision, without any new action on his part” (SCG 3.35).

God’s will is sufficient to bring all effects into existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time because his will is infinite in power (omnipotent), able to do anything that doesn’t entail a logical contradiction. Since there’s no logical contradiction in the idea of a single act willing a multiplicity of effects to be and not be at different moments in time, we can say that given God’s omnipotence he’s able to cause temporal effects without new action on his part.

Since no new act of causation on God’s part is needed to bring about a new effect in the flow of time, or to will an effect to cease to exist at a moment in the flow of time, the objection that God must change in causing things to exist at one point in time and not at some other time has no force.

Yet again theism passes the coherence test, at least on this front. There’s one other reason atheists give to show the incompatibility of God’s immutability and his role as the universal cause, but we’ll have to save that one for another time.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments


-by Karlo Broussard

“Atheists often claim that it’s contradictory for believers to assert that God is at the same time both the universal cause of all being and immutable. In other words, God can’t be changeless and at the same time changing, in the sense that he causes things to come into and go out of existence.

Consider, for example, that my act of typing this article right now is a reality ultimately because God causes it to be. His causal activity is not in opposition to my free action, but the presupposition for it. For whatever has being is ultimately caused to be by the source of being, God. Since my act of typing has being (it actually exists), it follows that God ultimately causes my action to be (even if he doesn’t cause every typo or imperfect metaphor that I choose).

By the time you read this article, however, my act of typing it will no longer exist. I’ll be engaged in other acts, such as throwing the football with my sons.

So, what God is causing to exist now (me typing this article in real time), he will no longer cause to exist when I shut down the computer. And what God was not causing to exist (me throwing the football with my sons), God will cause to exist.

But this seems to entail that God changes in his acts, acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

If God brings about new effects in time, so it’s argued, he would have to engage in new acts of the will. And if that were true, he would change.

So it seems that if we affirm God as the ultimate cause of all temporal effects, we would have to say God changes. If we say God can’t change, then we couldn’t affirm that he’s the ultimate cause of all temporal effects. Neither of the two options is available for one who believes in the classical understanding of God.

Is a theist trapped?

Notice how the objection assumes that God’s causal action is located in time just like the effect is located in time, as if we can point to some moment in time before which he doesn’t act and after which he does. But there are good reasons to think this assumption is false.

God is eternal, and therefore doesn’t exist or act in the flow of time. He’s entirely outside the succession of moments in time, having all moments of time (our before and after) present to him simultaneously. Consequently, God doesn’t have a “before” and an “after.” And if that’s the case, then it’s not correct to assume that he begins to act after a certain time, before which he didn’t act.

Moreover, as the first and universal cause, God not only ultimately causes my act of typing but also the time at which he wills this act to be (5:00 pm October 14 in Brisbane, Australia). For if he were only the first cause of the action, and not the time at which the action occurred, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal aspect of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality. Since that can’t be, we know he must not only cause the action, he must also cause the particular moment in the flow of time at which the act takes place.

And because God can’t be conditioned by that which he causes to be (the particular moments in the flow of time at which all activity takes place), his causal activity can’t possibly be subject to time. In other words, God’s causal activity has no “before” and “after” because God’s causal activity itself determines the “before” and “after” of all activity. We have to be careful not to confuse, “God causes some things to be at some moments of time,” with “God, at some moment in time, causes some things to be.”

Since God’s causal action is not in time, it’s not necessary that he change in his act of causing new temporal effects (i.e., go from not causing to causing). Therefore, the assertion that God is the universal cause of temporal effects doesn’t contradict the claim that God is immutable.

Now, an atheist might respond, “Perhaps God doesn’t undergo change in his causal activity because he acts in time. But he must undergo change inasmuch as he acts as a cause, for change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause. So God, therefore, can’t be immutable and the universal cause of all things at the same time.”

The problem with this counter is that it assumes change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause.

Sure, the causes that we experience undergo change when they bring about an effect (e.g., me going from not engaging in the act of typing this article to engaging in the act of typing this article). But just because a cause of our experience changes when it causes an effect, it doesn’t necessarily follow that anything whatsoever that acts as a cause must undergo change.

All that’s necessary for a cause to be a cause of an effect is for the effect in question to be brought about by that cause. In other words, without the activity of the cause the effect would not be. There’s nothing in this understanding of a cause that necessitates the cause undergo change when it acts as a cause.

And that’s all a theist is saying when he says God causes temporal effects. Something comes into existence at a specific moment of time due to God’s causal action, and it goes out of existence ultimately because of God’s causal action.

So, the idea that some things are brought about at different moments of time, and that God is the ultimate cause that brings those things about at their distinct moments of time, in no way shows God must undergo change when he acts as a cause. There’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change and God’s causal action is not characterized by time.

At least on this front, theism passes the coherence test.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Rejecting modern paganism


-The Triumph Of Christianity Over Paganism (1868?). Oil in canvas. 118 x 79 in. Christ, carrying a Cross, surrounded by a host of angels, forming a circle, swords ready to attack, sweeping above pagan gods of every kind. The Joey and Tobey Tanenbaum Collection, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario. Painted by Gustave Doré; Published in London on October 1st, 1899, by the Doré Gallery. Please click on the image for greater detail.

Heresies really never go away.  They may morph and change names.  There is plenty of paganism in the modern world.  It is sometimes called secularism.  None are to be tolerated.  Tolerance is not a Christian virtue.


-by Jon Sorensen. COO, Catholic Answers

“Some skeptics claim that the pagan culture of the Roman Empire heavily influenced the early Christian community—that the entire Christian system of belief was cobbled together by cherry-picking teachings from the “competing” religions of the time. A variant of this claim popular among non-Catholic Christians is that the Church started by Jesus Christ remained pure at first but then slowly adopted pagan beliefs, especially during and after the time of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century.

These claims could not be further from the truth. The predominant pagan belief in the Roman Empire ran contrary to the Christian message, and the writings of the early Christians demonstrate an almost contemptuous view of pagan polytheism and idolatry. Also, it’s a historical fact that the Romans outlawed Christianity to varying degrees up to the time of Constantine.

The Early Christians’ Disdain for Pagan Beliefs

We know that the early Christians had no interest in emulating the beliefs of contemporary religions by the way they wrote about them. From these writings, it is abundantly clear that they found the practices of these religions abhorrent. While there are mountains of examples that can be given to illustrate this point, we’ll concentrate on just a few.

Other than the name attributed to The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, not much is known about the author. The earliest estimate of the date of composition based on textual evidence places it some time in the first half of the second century. On the usefulness of pagan worship, Mathetes has this to say:

“[T]ake a good look—with your intelligence, not just with your eyes—at the forms and substances of those objects which you call gods and hold to be divine. . . . Was not one made by a stonecutter, another by a brass founder, a third by a silversmith, a fourth by a potter? And up to the present moment when the skill of those craftsmen gave them their present forms, was it not just as practicable—indeed, is it not just as practicable even now—for every one of them to have been made into something quite different? Moreover, supposing that ordinary pots and pans of similar material were put into the hands of those craftsmen, could they not be turned into gods like these?. . . Do you really call these things god and really do service to them? Yes, indeed you do; you worship them—and you end up becoming like them. Is it not because we Christians refuse to acknowledge their divinity that you dislike us so?”

The belief that the pagans worshiped lifeless works of art was common among the earliest Christian apologists. St. Athanasius, in his refutation of pagan beliefs Against the Heathen, criticizes the pagans for not considering that what they were worshiping were not actually gods but “the carver’s art.”

The Christians’ refusal to accept the beliefs and mode of worship of the Roman pagans led to another charge against them: atheism. In his second-century work First Apology, St. Justin Martyr explains:

“So we are called atheists. Well, we do indeed proclaim ourselves atheists in regard to the Most True God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and other virtues, who is without admixture of evil.”

St. Justin admits that the Christians refuse to acknowledge the very existence of pagan gods, but his criticism of paganism does not end there. He goes on to distance the beliefs of Christians even further:

“We do not reverence the same gods as you do, nor offer to the dead libations and the savour of fat, and crowns for their statues, and sacrifices. For you very well know that the same animals are with some esteemed gods, with others wild beasts, and with others sacrificial victims. And, secondly, because we— who, out of every race of men, used to worship Bacchus the son of Semele and Apollo the son of Latona . . . or some one or other of those who are called gods—have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impossible God; of whom we are persuaded that never was he goaded by lust of Antiope, or such other women, or of Ganymede, nor was rescued by that hundred-handed giant whose aid was obtained through Thetis, nor was anxious on this account that her son Achilles should destroy many of the Greeks because of his concubine Briseis. Those who believe these things we pity, and those who invented them we know to be devils.”

Skeptics claim that other chapters of Justin’s First Apology admit to similarities between Christian and pagan beliefs, but this interpretation misunderstands the point he is making. He acknowledges that there are elements of truth in the philosophies of the pagans, but the fullness of the truth is not contained in any one of them. That fullness can be found, as Justin asserts, only in the Christian faith.

Roman Persecution and the Early Church Fathers

One of the tactics of Justin’s First Apology is to point out the inconsistency of the Roman rule of law regarding the Christians. For example, in chapter 21, Justin points out that the pagans believed Jupiter had many sons, whereas Christians believe Jesus is the son of the one true God. Yet only the Christians were persecuted for their beliefs.

Upon closer inspection of the historical record, I have found Justin’s parallels to be rather far-reaching. The story of Jesus has nothing in common with the stories of the so-called “sons of Jupiter,” for example. But the most important thing we can take away from the writings of Justin Martyr and other early Church Fathers is that the Christians believed pagan worship was demonic in nature and not to be emulated—even though to do so might have eased the Roman persecutions.

Post-Constantine Adoption of Paganism?

While atheist skeptics claim that paganism was part of Christianity from the beginning, some non-Catholic Christians claim that the real corruption began with Emperor Constantine around the year 325. But even though Christians of that era were more concerned with refuting heresies, in their writings we can find the same attitude toward pagan beliefs and practices that had been common among them in earlier centuries.

After Emperor Theodosius I did away with paganism, and the Visigoths seized Rome in 410, an idea began to circulate among the people that the old gods had taken better care of them than the Christian God. This inspired St. Augustine to pen his classic The City of God against the pagans. This is perhaps the best example of an all-out refutation from this time period.

Conclusion

All of this evidence taken together presents a strong case. If we are to believe that paganism had as great an influence on Christianity as some claim, we must also believe that the early Church Fathers—all of who faced the possibility of capital punishment for their beliefs—spoke out against the Roman cults while at the same time being secretly devoted to them.”

Love,
Matthew

Secular philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Transfiguration, Part 5 of 5


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Transfiguration

“Shortly after starting RCIA in Maine, I was introduced to another girl in a very similar position as myself. Elizabeth was raised atheist and, after an “alternative Spring Break” with a Catholic religious community in South America, came to the similar conclusion that the Lord was truly present, and she must give herself completely to Him. After our initial meeting, which turned into an hour conversation, we had plans to depart for Boston that Friday to go convent hopping. Through Elizabeth, I was introduced to the writings of Scott Hahn, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and many others.

Though Elizabeth believed she had a vocation to active religious life, our priest urged her to visit a small traditional cloistered monastery in upstate Vermont. She made a brief visit of only two days.

“Oh, Kristen! It was like prison!” she described after her visit. Yet, it was also like home, she said. She was torn. She knew she belonged there, yet how could she possibly help the world living such a hidden life?

“I’m going back, and you’re going with me!” she determined. And a month later, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2006, Elizabeth and I made our trip to the Benedictine Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The moment I entered, I knew I was home.

A few months later, shortly before my entrance into the Church at Easter Vigil, Sister Elizabeth Rose and I made our last trip. She knocked on the great wooden doors which led to the hidden life, and I bid her farewell.

Though I had no doubt that this was my home, I could not enter as easily as my spiritual sister since I had a growing mountain of student and medical debt. I begged the Lord for a means to overcome the debt, and the Lord answered: join the Army.

This was both fitting and humorous. Even my parents laughed at the thought of such a rebellious — indeed, anarchist — child attempting such a disciplined life. Friends from religious communities joked that, on account of my stubbornness, military life might be the only way I could learn the discipline necessary for religious life. There were bets on how many weeks I would survive boot camp,  especially since I rejected the option to join as an Officer.

But I did survive boot camp. In fact, to everyone’s surprise, I enjoyed the military.

Once again, I quickly adapted and began to question if military life were not my call. I began longing for marriage — to a man of flesh and blood, here and now. I longed for children. It led me to question my religious vocation altogether. Yet, the Lord put an abrupt halt to these thoughts along with the worldly lifestyle I began adopting. My military career came to an end upon suffering a foot injury, a hip fracture, and, finally, a spine injury. Like Jonah, it was not enough that I simply be cast out into a storm; I had to be swallowed up whole.

I returned home to Maine, much as I did years earlier during my graduate career — fully intending to avoid God and my vocation by any means necessary. I maintained my Catholic faith, but minimally. Any attempt to work deeper into my spirituality would lead me inevitably to my beloved Jesus. At the time it was too painful. I was still too attached to the world. Yet keeping dis- tance from my beloved caused greater pain. I was conflicted; I wanted God’s will but was weakened with worldly desire.

So I prayed, asking the Lord to bring me back into His will by any means necessary. The Lord answered my prayer in the form of intense suffering, taking seriously the “by any means necessary.” A worsening spinal injury led to a series of surgeries, followed by a stroke, and other serious illnesses that brought me to death’s door.

While some might see these calamities as sure damnation, for me they were a glorious gift from God. I trusted even when I said, “I am sorely afflicted” (Psalm 115). They left me with no choice but to return to Him. It was a necessary transfiguration of body and soul that allowed me to return to my home, the cloister nestled in the Vermont wilderness.

On September 14, 2016, the Exaltation of the Cross, I made my full profession as a Benedictine Oblate sister of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Unlike my cloistered sisters, I live out my monastic vocation in the world. Like Jonah, spewed from the mouth of the whale, I still have a mission to fulfill.

All for the praise and glory of God!”

Love,
Matthew

Secular philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Wedding Feast at Cana, Part 4 of 5


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Wedding at Cana

“It was nearly midnight on December 18th, 2005. I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I had researched my tragedy for the previous three months. Attempting to stay as far away as possible from Christianity, I had decided to approach the topic from a different, more scholarly angle. This led me to invest time reading about religious ritual, in general, from an anthropological point of view. I read all about the ancient Greek cults, such as the Dionysian; I read about the tribal religions of Africa and even the Mayans.

There was one topic that kept coming up over and over again that would inevitably lead me back to meditation on the Christian Faith: the ritual of expiation. What struck me was how this ritual occurred in so many varied cultures, in all points of time, in every form of ritual. Despite how varied the rituals or the terms used, the whole world appeared to agree on one point: at some moment in human history, there was an original sin that led to a current imperfect, sinful state, requiring some form of continual expiation. The Dionysian cult’s was the sacrifice of a bull. In Mayan culture, there were human sacrifices. And the sacrifice of virgins seemed to happen everywhere, second only to the sacrifice of goats and lambs as found in Ancient Jewish custom. Most required that the sacrifice remain “unblemished.” And all had a cycle around which the sacrifices occured. I could not help but find humor in the fact that, while a bull or goat may be required on a regular basis, human sacrifice often occurred on a more prolonged schedule; it was as if a lamb could only cleanse the soul for a month, but a human sacrifice, well, being the greater sacrifice, purchased a more thorough cleansing. Within this humor I also could not help but draw the conclusion that there is only one sacrifice which could wipe away all sin for all time: a divine one. And there I was again, face to face with my fairy tale Prince on the white horse.

That night many years ago, I thought over my research again and again. I hated it, for it pointed me every time to that very One I had been trying to avoid: Jesus Christ.

What Professor Frederick Turner had commented three months prior simply couldn’t be true — could it? It had to be a coincidence that, even in obscure research, I was always drawn back to this God-man.

I could not hide any longer. The fairy tale was real. I had found my Prince; it was Jesus Christ. In that moment of acceptance, instantly, I saw and understood all the wild effects of my imagination. I was indeed going to be a nun, and a Catholic one, for where else does one become a bride of Christ?

Even more profound was my understanding of the Eucha- rist. Through all my research on expiation ritual, what became evident was that the Eucharist would necessarily have to be the Body and Blood of Christ. If our Lord Jesus is truly divine, which He is, why wouldn’t such a complete offering puncture through all space and time, making itself ever present and thus one single offering, complete and sufficient for all history? Of course it would.

At the time, I said nothing. I wasn’t sure what to do next. So I waited.

A few months later, in February, I made a trip to Dallas to meet with my dissertation committee. My dear friend Chris, married to one of my grad school buddies, picked me up at the airport. Though not Catholic, Chris had always been deeply Christian and devout. She had, in fact, grown up with me in Maine and remained at my side through all the drugs, licentious relationships, and other horrid behavior — even when I would cancel our engagements, fail to call, or show up crying as a result of my latest misbehavior. She never judged me, and though I knew she was deeply Christian, she never spoke a word of it to me.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, after a long and quiet car ride to her house, she asked me, “You are different; what’s happened to you?”

With that question, it all came out. I began telling how, three months earlier, Frederick Turner had told me my own fate — a fate that was revealed years ago in a dream and truly known even before then. I just kept repeating, “He’s real! He’s real, Chris! Jesus is truly real!”

I told her how I intended to become Catholic so that I might become a bride of Christ. She grabbed me and hugged me, and both of us began crying tears of joy.

“You have no idea how much and how long I have been praying for your conversion!” she whispered. With that, she gave me the courage to act.

A few days later, from her house in Dallas, I spoke with my mom by phone. Having travelled 2500 miles away, I felt I was at a safe distance to share the news with her. I told her plainly how I intended to become Catholic and become a nun. There was a moment of silence on the phone. Finally, she answered:

“That’s just incredible! You’re never going to believe this. I was clearing out old boxes this morning, putting them out for trash. This one box — the only box I checked — I thought I should stop and just make sure there’s nothing important in there — I found your baptismal certificate….”

I understood her words as the Lord’s confirmation that I was on the right path.

Within three months — between that February and May — my entire life changed. I ended up walking away from my dissertation and abandoning academia altogether. A number of events led to this, one of which was the leaving of my dissertation chair to go to a new job at a new university. I had already sensed that my time in scholarship was done. I had accomplished the end for which I had set out years before when I began my philosophy studies: I had found truth. I had also begun an RCIA program under the guidance of a disciplined Marist priest who determined that if I did have a vocation, then I needed to be well- grounded in the Faith. I left lucrative work in academics for odd jobs and the occasional tutoring session. I was again living with my parents. And I experienced the first of many illnesses that would leave me hospitalized and requiring surgeries.

By the time I entered the Church at Easter 2007, I had nothing but the Lord. And I couldn’t have been happier.”

Love,
Matthew

Secular philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Annunciation, Part 3 of 5


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Annunciation

“I was a bit of an odd child from a very young age. My parents still tell how I didn’t have just one imaginary friend, but seven — one of which was a doctor! Indeed, I had a vivid imagination, which had the pesky habit of making me too curious. I often wandered on my own, like the time I caused a panic when I did not return home from school. I was simply still riding the school bus because I wanted to see where it went after it dropped me off. I was blunt in my questioning, to the point of rudeness, for I would quickly grow impatient with adults who attempted to pacify me with false answers. I wasn’t just curious; I was seeking after something — someone. The truth.

During my early teens, a few years after my family had settled in Maine, this yearning was expressed through an unquenchable thirst for books combined with the impetus to try everything. I remember discovering Mother Teresa. I didn’t understand exactly what she was — that she was a Catholic nun — but I knew I wanted to be like her.

Then there was Malcolm X. I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which began two lifelong events for me: 1. the pursuit of learning and of understanding language, which began with my own reading of The Loom of Language, a technical linguistic treatise by Frederick Bodmer published in 1944; and 2. the search for the True Religion, which began with my own declaration of being Muslim. In his autobiography, Malcolm X discusses reading The Loom of Language and its effect on his own linguistic sensibilities. As for the Muslim declaration, the impetus was primarily Malcolm X’s accounts of his trip to Mecca where he encountered hundreds of people from every walk of life and nationality, brought together in the communion of prayer to God. The moment I read that description, I desired it.

I had a proclivity to dye my hair green or shave it completely. I listened to punk rock and concluded that almost nobody had a clue what was going on in the world. I was disillusioned, desperately seeking after a truth that no one seemed comfortable to admit, let alone discuss. At best I was highly imaginative, and at worst I was crazy. Between the culture of my youth and my own weakness, I concluded in favor of the latter. I tried running away, I did drugs, I attempted suicide.

Then one night, when I was seventeen, I had a dream. I was in a beautiful countryside. The sky was vibrant blue, and the grass was green and soft. In the distance there was a hill, and upon it stood this beautiful lady with a white tunic and a blue veil. It was as if I knew her. I hastened up the hill to the lady, happy to meet her. When I reached her, she smiled and announced, “I have something to tell you; you are going to be a nun.”

“OK!” I answered, “But not a Catholic nun — how about a Buddhist nun? I’ll be a Buddhist nun!” Then I turned and ran back down the hill before the lady could answer me. I have no idea why I was against being a Catholic nun. At that time I knew nothing of Catholicism. Yet somehow, in my ignorance, I was firmly against it.

The next morning I woke up with determination. I had a task before me: I was supposed to be a nun — a Buddhist nun. So I set out to become Buddhist and find out how to be a Buddhist nun.

I went into my high school and sought out my literature teacher, who was a very kind and worldly woman. I proceeded to tell her how I needed to become Buddhist so I could become a nun. Hesitant, she gave me the contact of a meditation space in the next town over. I went, bought several books by Chogyam Trungpa, and enrolled myself in several Buddhist meditation classes.

While becoming Buddhist was easy, becoming a Buddhist nun was not. As it turns out, there really isn’t such a thing. The most I could ever achieve was a regular, humdrum life, punctuated by lots of meditation and retreats. But I didn’t want merely week- ends of meditation; I wanted meditation all day, every day. Actually, I didn’t want meditation at all. It quickly became evident to me that Buddhist meditation was really nothing other than a speaking to oneself. I was struck by the absurdity of a self telling itself that it’s not really a self. The very act of telling demonstrates there is a self that is doing the telling — for there could be no telling without a subject to tell.

Though I found meditation helpful for calming anxiety and ordering my own thoughts, after a couple of years I abandoned Buddhism altogether and turned instead to paganism. I could not get over the absurdity of self-annihilation, and, more importantly, my imagination rejected wholesale the nonexistence of God. For me, the question was never whether God did or did not exist. Rather, I was trying to determine who God is; that is, which god was the God of gods?”

Love,
Matthew

Secular Philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Eucharist, Part 2 of 5


-The Isenheim Altarpiece, circa 1512-1515, Matthias Grunewald, please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Institution of the Eucharist

“I grew up a “Navy brat,” the youngest of six children. (Years later, I discovered that there was another brother whom my destitute mother had given up for adoption. So we were really seven siblings.) My father was from Minnesota. He married my mother after a previous failed marriage, that had produced two daughters. My mother was from Maine and, similarly, had been married twice before, with three children. I was born unexpectedly in 1975. As a result, while most children attended school with their siblings, I attended with my nephews.

My family was not religious. Though I was taught to identify as Christian, I never really knew what that meant. The few experiences I had with Christianity taught me nothing.

The most memorable of these experiences occurred after my father retired from the Navy, around 1984, when we moved back to his home in Minnesota. At this time, my Grandpa Hauck and Mabel (Grandpa’s fourth or fifth wife) insisted I learn “my” Lutheran faith. They decided they would start bringing me along with them to church.

The first Sunday came; they picked me up, and we drove over to a Lutheran church in Minneapolis. The service was long, and the minister seemed to talk an awful lot about very boring things. Then, all of a sudden, my grandparents dragged me up to the front of the church with them where everyone was taking a place along a rail and kneeling. I kept looking past Mabel to see what was happening and saw the minister with an assistant. The assistant had a tray with little cups and crackers, and the minister would take one of each and give it to each person kneeling. I was excited about the prospects of a snack — until they came close enough for me to hear what they were saying.

A few people away, I heard the minister as he picked up the host first, then the little cup, saying, “The body of Christ; the blood of Christ.” Then I got scared.

I tugged at Mabel and kept asking, “We’re eating somebody!?Who are we eating?! Grandma Mabel, Grandma Mabel!”

Mabel kept hushing me all the way until the minister came to me, at which point, confused and scared and certainly not interested in cannibalism, I screamed and threw a fit, refusing communion.

We left quickly that day, with my grandpa dragging me, crying hysterically, out of the church while Mabel followed, chastising me for embarrassing them. They never took me to church again.”

Love,
Matthew

Secular Philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Epiphany, Part 1 of 5


-“Christ at the Cross” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1870, please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

“Easter 2018 marked my eleventh year as a Catholic. Since that Vigil eleven years ago, I have been asked many times, particularly by those who knew me previously, what on earth happened to cause such a conversion? I’m still trying to make sense of it myself. I find myself asking not so much how it happened, but rather how on earth did it not happen sooner? Surely I share in the lineage of Jonah, having preferred the storms of life and the stomach of a whale to the will of God.

Each time I consider my experience, I only become more aware of the ever wider circles emanating from a point in my history that, although one point, traces a life only God could draw. But then, isn’t this so with every conversion? Are we not all called to be formed in such a manner and likeness, to be Christ-like? So have I been formed through my continual conversion.

The Epiphany

My first epiphany of Jesus Christ occurred very unexpectedly during a casual sushi lunch with a member of my dissertation committee in the fall of 2005.

Though I was a year and a half into my dissertation, I had only just begun its writing. My dissertation topic was the influence and significance of the Dionysian in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Six months into my dissertation, I threw everything out. After my own exegesis and research into both the cult of Dionysus and Nietzsche’s work, I found myself struggling with what I argued was Nietzsche’s own conclusion: in order to reveal the wisdom of the Dionysian, which is to say, the wisdom of suffering, one must adopt poetic language. This was problematic since there is nothing more unpoetic than the dry prose of a research dissertation. So I went back to my dissertation committee and presented a new proposal, outlining the production of a tragedy that would demonstrate what I believed Nietzsche had been trying to express about the Dionysian.

Did I have experience in theater? Of course not. Did I know how to format a play? Nope. Did I even have the vaguest idea of what that tragedy would be? Not until that sunny afternoon in the fall, eating lunch with Frederick Turner, poet, professor, and member of my dissertation committee. One might consider it pure luck that I was permitted to depart so radically from traditional scholarship. But I had long grown suspect of such “luck,” having already experienced the impossible so many times in my life.

By the time I met with Professor Turner for this lunch, I had done independent studies in theater, researched Greek tragedy, and turned my attention to a study of the Christian faith. I reasoned that if I were to produce a tragedy with the same cultural and pedagogical impact of the ancient Greek tragedies (this impact being precisely what Nietzsche was trying to express, I argued), then I would have to use a contemporary “myth,” or set of religious beliefs, within which to work. Living in the United States in 2005, I saw Christianity as the obvious milieu. Constructing the specific story out of the Christian archetypes, however, did not prove such an easy task. It was this lack of a specific story that led to the lunch meeting. I was intending to show what I had produced thus far as well as discuss my difficulties in coming up with anything novel. I told the professor all about the success of the “Greek Festival” I had presented the previous weekend and was stumbling through the number of pithy story ideas I had. There was a very long pause. Then Professor Frederick Turner spoke:

“You know what I think the story is? I think the story is about a God …. a God who became man …. and He loved this girl. And, though this girl loved Him very much, too, she did not know Him. And when He came and knocked at her door, she did not recognize Him….”

Honestly, I do not even remember the rest of the conversation. I only remember wanting to flee the emotion welling up inside me as quickly as possible. Indeed, even now, the same emotion bleeds tears in my eyes. Riding home with a fellow scholar who had joined us, I broke down sobbing. When my friend inquired, I could not hold back my emotion as I cried out, “How did he know? It’s me! I’m that girl!”

The fact was I had lived my whole life searching for truth. It was the reason I had decided at the age of 16 that I would study philosophy. Yet this scholarly pursuit itself became a mask. By the time of my dissertation, it had become a well-rehearsed performance disguising the true reality — the wild imagination of a little girl who clung desperately to a fairy tale. And in this fairy tale, the girl was a princess destined for a soulmate, a Prince who is “faithful and true,” who would come riding upon a white horse to save her (Revelation 19:11). But who was He? Where was He? Was He even real? I had spent the previous 30 years convincing myself it was pure imagination.

Yet, suddenly, over a casual lunch of sushi, the mask was torn off, and the fairy tale I sought desperately to ignore lay open before me. I went home and tried to continue work on my dissertation, at the same time resorting to any means at hand to blot out the truth revealed to me that day.”

Love,
Matthew