Category Archives: Atheism

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

Does God exist?

“Traditionally, Catholic theology makes use of a fair amount of philosophy when thinking about what God is…biblical revelation is not irrational and…it does not do violence to natural human reason…biblical revelation not only respects natural human reason. It also invites us to make use of natural human reason in the service of the revealed (Ed. biblical) truth.

…we might immediately ask a series of good philosophical questions, based on our ordinary experience of reality. Do we see signs, for example, in the ordinary realities around us (including ourselves) that things as we know them really are dependent for their existence upon another? Does the order of the world, as far as we can make it out, tend to suggest at least the possibility of an origin in divine wisdom? Does the physical world seem self-explanatory or could there be good reasons to think that the existence of the material world implies the necessary existence of something transcending matter?…the claim that revelation is compatible with natural reason requires at least that there is some kind of possible rational harmony between what we think about the world philosophically based on ordinary experience of the world and what we find being taught in the revelation of the Catholic faith.

…the traditional Catholic insistence on the “proofs for the existence of God” are not first and foremost about trying to gain universal consensus regarding the philosophical question of the existence of God. They are not even first and foremost about trying to show that it is rational to believe that God exists (though this is true and sometimes the arguments help agnostic people see this). The central aim of them, instead, is to show that there is a way of human thinking about God that can reach up toward God even as (or after!) the revelation of God reaches down to human reason, so that the two cooperate “under grace” or in grace. The point is that grace does not destroy human nature but heals and elevates it to work within faith in a more integral way. Thinking about the one God philosophically is meant, in Catholic theology, to be a form of humble acceptance of biblical revelation…This Catholic approach eschews then two contrary extremes: a fideism that would seek to know God only by means of Christian revelation (with no contribution of natural human reasoning about God), and a rationalism that would seek to know God only or primarily by philosophical argument, to the exclusion of the mystery of the revelation of God.5 Faith and reason are meant to work together in this domain, not stand opposed.

The Illative Sense

…The traditional Catholic arguments for the existence of God are not geometrical proofs derived from self-evident axioms, but are something more elevated and deal with a subject matter that is more elusive. They function primarily as intellectual discernments about the nature of reality as we perceive it all the time. They begin from things around us so as to perceive the necessity of a transcendent origin, God the creator, Who remains hidden and hence not immediately subject to the constraints of our “clear and distinct ideas.” That is to say, thinking about God is realistic and philosophical, but it also seeks to acknowledge the numinous character of our existence and the ways that our limited, finite being points toward something transcendent, necessary, and eternal, which is the cause of our existence. Thinking about God in this sense is difficult for the human mind, not because theology is soft-headed, but simply because the subject matter is so elevated and not intrinsically capturable in the way mathematical or empirical topics are.

There are many ways of approaching the question of God philosophically, and the Catholic tradition has given rise (and continues to give rise) to a multitude of rational arguments, some of which are incompatible with one another (such that intense philosophical dispute occurs continually within the Catholic faith, a sign of its respect for the autonomous development of philosophical reason). There are arguments from the metaphysical structure of reality (the being of the world), arguments from beauty, from the very idea of God as perfect (Anselm’s famous ontological argument), from the order of the world, from the moral drama of human existence, from the desire of man for an infinite good, and others as well. Aquinas is often said to have given five demonstrations of the existence of God, but in fact he gives between fifteen and twenty arguments in various locations in his work.6 Many of these have their roots in previous thinkers, particularly Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, and a host of patristic authors.

It is important to note that more than one argument or philosophical way of thinking about God can be true simultaneously. There are various routes up the mountain, so to speak. This is because the world around us is complex and so the complexity of the world can “bespeak” or indicate God in different ways. It is one thing, for example, to note that the existence of interdependent physical realities requires a transcendent, non-physical cause. It is another thing to note that the human being is marked inwardly by a dramatic struggle between moral good and moral evil. These two truths can be indirect indications of the mystery of God distinctly, but also in a simultaneous and convergent fashion. Various truths we come to about the world converge to suggest a larger overarching truth.

This is the case not only for arguments for the existence of God, but also for our larger perspective on religious and cosmic questions more generally. Atheists, for example, often inhabit intellectual traditions of argument that attempt to explain a variety of truths from within a diverse but convergent set of unified theories: “The Bible is a purely human book.” “There are no good philosophical arguments for the existence of God.” “The problem of evil mitigates against claims to the contrary.” “All that exists is in some way purely material.” “Human origins are explicable by recourse to a materialist account of the theory of evolution.” “Whatever moral or aesthetic truths there are within human existence are best safeguarded by secular political systems.” These are all very different claims but they are held by many people as a set of convergent, interrelated ideas about reality, and the more one holds to a greater number of them, the more the others may seem plausible or reasonable. This is something like what John Henry Newman referred to as the “illative sense” of rational assent to the truth.7 We tend to see things in sets or groups of collected truths. Meanwhile, such complex deliberations touch upon the cords of our heart. We are affected by what we want to be true, or what we want not to be true, by our unconditional desire to find the truth or our fears of inconvenient truths. Otherwise said, the heart is both affected by and affects our thinking about major questions like atheism or the existence of God, because there are implications for other aspects of our life and our overall take on reality in a broad sweep of domains.

This is why thinking about the one God is often, for each of us, deeply interrelated to (even if logically distinguishable from) a whole host of other issues…

…Straightforward philosophical reflection about God, then, has its own integrity as a form of argument, or reasoning, but it is also embedded within a web of existential concerns and reflection on a wide array of issues pertaining to reality. The plausibility of believing one thing, especially a truth about God, is connected to the plausibility of believing a great deal of other things.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 1223-1247, 1251-1285, 1288-1291). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.”

Faith has implications.  Belief is consequential, in SO MANY ways!!!  But, so too, atheism.  Like it, or not.  Eternally??  🙂  Not choosing is a choice.  Jesus compels a choice.  Which do you choose?

Aut Deus, aut malus homo.

Love,
Matthew

5. See here the classic Catholic statement on faith and reason in the document of the First Vatican Council, Dei Filius, April 24, 1870, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pars. 27–43.
6. On Aquinas’s varied arguments for the existence of God, see John Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought.
7. John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, chap. 9.

Atheism

Getting Rid of Bad Attitudes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Theistic Attitude #3: Failing to empathize with atheists

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

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

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

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

-Religious people believe things for stupid reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Questions from friends…


-by Trent Horn

Questions From Friends

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

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

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

The First Christians

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

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

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

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

An Old Baby Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Believe: The Catholic Church

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

Love,
Matthew

Lunch w/an atheist


-by Trent Horn

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

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

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

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Good, I’m Trent.”

“Yeah, I know.”

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

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

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

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

He nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

A Common Desire

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew