Category Archives: Atheism

Salvation

“Why do I need to be saved?

We all need to be saved because of sin. That’s what we need to be saved from.

People today sometimes hesitate to use the word sin. For some people, this word is a reminder of a religious upbringing that they would rather forget. For others, it’s a strong word—one that can come across as intimidating. But regardless of how we feel about the word, the reality of sin is all around us.

We all know this. It doesn’t matter whether one is religious or secular, liberal or conservative. All human beings have an innate recognition that something is wrong with the world, that people do things that they should not, and that we ourselves do wrong.

It doesn’t matter who you are: Think about the things in this world that make you angry—things like cruelty, injustice, and indifference to the suffering of others. Every one of us can become morally outraged when we encounter these things in their pure, unadulterated forms.

We also have an inner sense—our conscience—that is meant to warn us when we are about to do something wrong, or that makes us feel ashamed when we have done wrong.

Regardless of what you call it, sin is a reality that is in the world and within us as well.

We also sense that sin must have consequences. If there is justice in the world, then ultimately, people can’t simply get away with doing wrong.

It’s easy to sense this when we consider evil written large—horrible conflicts that have killed millions, examples of genocide, or cases of ethnic cleansing. The people who cause these things simply cannot be allowed to get away with them! If there is justice in the world then they must somehow—someday—be called to account.

Yet we know that there are people who committed horrible crimes and seemed to get away with them entirely. Others may have suffered ome consequences for what they did, but nowhere near enough, given the horrors they committed. Dictators, terrorists, and mass murderers—without repenting or being sorry in the least for what they have done— have either died peacefully in bed or suffered only a fraction of what they did to others.

This shows us that justice is not always done in this life. Yet our hearts tell us that there should be justice in the world. And so there is, but not always in this life. Christianity holds that, while villains may get away with their deeds for a time, they will ultimately have to stand before their Creator and be accountable to him for what they have done.

This opens up a new perspective. Thus far we have been looking at evil in terms of wrongs done by one person against another. But when we consider our sins with respect to God, we see that there is another dimension.

Everything we have—every ability, talent, and aptitude—is a gift from God, and that means that every time we sin, we misuse one of God’s gifts. Sin thus involves an offense against God, a failure to love him and honor him by using his gifts properly.

Because our sins aren’t just against our fellow men, but against our infinitely good, all-holy, and eternal Creator, they carry a special gravity—one that can have eternal consequences. This adds a special urgency to our need for salvation.

When our consciences tell us that we have done wrong, and when our sense of justice tells us that we will be held accountable for what we have done, we naturally desire mercy. Our hearts call out for it. This is true both when we think of the wrongs we have done against other people and when we realize that they are offenses against God. Fortunately, in both cases, mercy—or salvation from the consequences of our sins—is available.

The human heart thus contains powerful intuitions that form the backdrop to the drama of salvation—the intuitions that sin is real, that there is justice and so sin has consequences in this life or the next, and that mercy or salvation is available for those who repent.

The Christian faith acknowledges these intuitions of the heart and the realities they point to. It recognizes the realities of sin, justice, and salvation—and the importance they have for all of us.”

Love,
Matthew

The New Atheism


-by Trent Horn

“In C. S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength there is a scene where the non-religious protagonist, Mark, is instructed as “part of an exercise” to trample an image of a large crucifix. Because Mark is not a Christian, he is puzzled as to why he should bother with this exercise and not just leave this silly superstition alone. The professor who is leading the exercise tells Mark, “Of course it is a superstition: but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for many centuries. . . . An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity” (ch. 15). In other words, if religion is to be purged from society it cannot simply be ignored; it has to be ridiculed.

Lewis’s novel, published in 1945, was set in the future. Nearly seventy years later, that future is our present, and the author’s descriptions of religious ridicule pale in comparison to the current mockeries of Christianity found on the Internet. Yet while the vileness of the ridicule has increased, the attitude embodied by the professor remains the same. The best way to see how Lewis’s fiction has become prophecy is to contrast the “Old Atheism” with what some have called the “New Atheism.”

The “Old Atheism”

Throughout most of the twentieth century, public profession of atheism was synonymous with communism or the endorsement of totalitarianism. In a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Obsolete Man,” a librarian in a police state is executed for the crime of believing in God. Ultimately the librarian (portrayed wonderfully by the late Burgess Meredith) turns the tables on his executioner, but the image of a believer being crushed under the jackboot of totalitarian atheism was, at the time, not mere fiction. In his 1967 memoir, Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand describes how Soviet guards would tell prisoners, “I thank God in whom I don’t believe. Now I may indulge the evil in my heart” (p. 34).

These horror stories may have something to do with atheism’s low approval ratings. Gallup compared two polls conducted in 1958 and 2012 about people’s unwillingness to elect certain minorities to the U.S. presidency. In 1958, 38 percent were willing to elect an African-American and 18 percent were willing to elect an atheist. In 2012, while 96 percent were willing to elect an African-American, only 54 percent were willing to elect an atheist (Jeffrey Jones, “Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates,” Gallup Polling, June 21, 2012).

Faced with such dismal levels of public approval, atheists felt the need to show believers that they were good people and not amoral communists. Beginning in the 1970s, the philosopher Paul Kurtz promoted what he called “secular humanism,” which focused on promoting human well-being without religion rather than converting people to atheism. Secular humanists even praised religion for its beneficial effects on society.

The Second Humanist Manifesto affirmed, “In the best sense, religion may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals.” The Manifesto went on to point out that while religion can hinder society, so can many nonreligious ideologies that are not based on humanism (Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson, “Humanist Manifesto II,” 1973). But this attitude of congenial disagreement changed for many people on September 11, 2001.

The “New Atheism”

I remember getting ready for school on that fateful day when my dad ran into my bedroom and turned on the television. Because I went to high school in Arizona, the attacks were in progress by the time I woke up. I stared in disbelief as the news replayed over and over again the surreal sight of the World Trade Center collapsing into a pile of dust. How could 19 human beings (the 9/11 hijackers) do something so terrible? The answer from the New Atheists was simple: Religion alone has the power to cause people to do such terrible things.

In 2004 American atheist Sam Harris, after reflecting on the September 11 terrorist attacks, published The End of Faith. In the book, Harris argued that religion is a form of mental illness and not part of a rational worldview. He writes, “[I]t is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.” (p. 70). In 2006 British biologist Richard Dawkins went so far as to claim that religious education for children is child abuse: “Even without physical abduction, isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label a child a possessor of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?” (The God Delusion, p. 354). These books were followed by others, such as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon. Before Hitchens died in 2011, these authors were known as the “four horsemen” of the “New Atheism.”

What made these atheists “new” weren’t their arguments against religion but their attitude that religion should be reviled. At the 2012 “Reason Rally,” about 10,000 atheists gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where Dawkins instructed them regarding Christians: “Mock them, ridicule them in public. . . . Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion” (Lillian Kwon, “Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious,” The Christian Post, March 24, 2012).

Ridiculing religion

To be fair, there are atheists who do not see religion as a bad thing and don’t support ridicule as a way to combat it. Atheistic philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong writes, “Like law, science, art, and guns, religion is a powerful tool that can be used for great good as well as for great evil. I have no desire to obstruct the benefits of religion” (William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, 82). But other atheists think this “accommodation” is dangerous. Harris writes, “I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss” (The End of Faith, 15).

Most atheists do not want the government to outlaw religious belief, but they do want government to no longer be associated with it. One common tactic is to file lawsuits to ban the display of nativity scenes or crosses on public land. When that strategy fails, some atheists opt for a “heckler’s veto.” In a recent case, the city of Santa Monica had hosted a life-size nativity display in Palisades Park since 1953, which earned it the nickname “City of the Christmas Story.” In 2011, atheist Damon Vix encouraged other atheists to apply for booths in the park so that of the twenty-one available spaces nearly all were reserved for atheist displays dedicated to parodies of religion. These included displays that paid homage to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (the deity of the parody religion Pastafarianism) and compared Jesus to Santa Claus and the ancient Greek god Poseidon. The latter display included the sign “37 million Americans know MYTHS when they see one. What myths do you see?”

In response to the controversy, the city of Santa Monica banned all private displays from Palisades Park and the ban has been upheld in Federal Court. Vix later said, “If I had another goal it would be to remove the ‘under God’ phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance—but that’s a little too big for me to take on for right now” (Doug Stanglin, “U.S. judge blocks Nativity displays in Santa Monica” USA Today, Nov. 19, 2012).

Another atheist group that uses the strategy of public ridicule is the American Atheists. They are a national group that sponsors billboards with messages such as “Christianity: Sadistic God; Useless Savior.” When asked about the controversy about the billboards, the group’s president, David Silverman, said, “I respect people; I respect humans. I do not respect religion. And I do not respect the idea that religion deserves respect” (Dan Merica, “Atheist organizer takes ‘movement’ to nation’s capital,” CNN Belief Blog, March 23, 2012).

The Internet: The church of atheism

One popular way atheists ridicule religion is through the use of Internet memes, or ideas that spread through a population like viruses. These are usually ironic oversimplifications of religious doctrines that are designed to make the doctrines look silly. One popular meme depicts Jesus with rotting flesh and glowing red eyes along with the caption, “Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically accept him as your master . . . yeah, makes perfect sense.”

Besides allowing memes spread at an exponential rate, the Internet has provided a community for atheists to interact with one another. Christians have always had community at their churches, but prior to the invention of the Internet atheists could only hope to run into each other in the Nietzsche section of the local used book store. But now atheists’ presence on the Internet dwarfs that of their religious counterparts.

The popular forum website Reddit, which describes itself as the “front page” of the Internet, has various “subreddits” that are devoted to different communities. At the time of this writing, the Catholic “subreddit” has about 5,000 subscribers, the Christian subreddit has about 50,000 subscribers, but the atheism subredditt has more than 1.4 million subscribers. Keep in mind that Catholics make up about 25 percent of the population, non-Catholic Christians make up about 50 percent of the population, but atheists make up only three percent of the population. While some net-savvy Catholics have harnessed the evangelistic power of memes and other internet tools such as blogging, they still have a lot of catching up to do. To quote Mark Twain, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has time to put its shoes on.”

Being gentle and blameless

How should Catholics respond to atheist ridicule? First, because critics of the Church sometimes use ridicule does not mean Catholics have a license to do the same. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “[B]ut in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;
and keep your conscience clear so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. ”

On a recent Catholic Answers Live radio show an atheist caller claimed that the reason I was Catholic was because my mother taught it to me and I blindly accepted what she told me. I corrected the caller gently and told him that my mother is not Catholic and I was in fact a convert to the Catholic Church. He apologized and we continued our discussion over whether or not atheism is true. This is a good example of using charity so that others may “themselves be put to shame” when they defame us.

Watch out for smelly fish

Second, Catholics should be ready to give a well-reasoned answer to the arguments put forward by atheists. Several books and media resources are available to help Catholics answer atheist arguments with objective tools like science and philosophy. My own book on the subject, Answering Atheism, is due out this year. Unfortunately, when some atheists are confronted with thoughtful arguments for the existence of God they will take the low road in discourse and attack our faith instead of attacking the arguments used to defend it.

For example, if you present scientific evidence for God (such as the universe’s beginning in time) an atheist might say, “But what about all the scientists, like Galileo, that the Church has persecuted?” If you present objective moral truths as evidence of an objective moral law-giver an atheist might say, “But what about the Crusades, or the sex-abuse scandals, or the fact that the Bible condones slavery and genocide!”

As you can see, these arguments have nothing to do with the existence of God. Instead, they are designed to lead you away from that topic and keep the debate focused on an irrelevant detail. In logic this type of gambit is a fallacy called a “red herring.” The name comes from the practice of dragging a smelly fish called a herring across a game trail. This was done so that the hunting dogs could practice not being distracted by other scents and instead stay focused on the object of the hunt. You should take a lesson from the dogs and stay focused when people present these red herring arguments. Simply respond, “That may be true, but which premise of my argument for the existence of God do these facts refute? How would these facts show there isn’t a God?”

But along with strong, well-focused arguments, 1 Peter 3:15-16 requires that our defense of the faith must be so charitable that we are beyond reproach if atheists criticize us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that atheists may be less morally responsible for their atheism because they were poorly evangelized by believers. Quoting Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism states:

The imputability of [atheism] can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. “Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion” (CCC 2125).

What not to do

A recent case where Christians concealed rather than revealed God’s love can be found in the recent controversy surrounding high school student Jessica Ahlquist. Ahlquist, who was a student at Cranston West High School in Rhode Island, spoke publicly in favor of removing a 47-year-old banner from the school auditorium that was emblazoned with religious phrases like “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.” In 2011 the American Civil Liberty Union, with Ahlquist as plaintiff, sued to have the banner removed. Ultimately the district court ruled in favor of Ahlquist.

Members of the community who supported keeping the banner, many of whom described themselves as Protestant Christians or Catholics, expressed extreme hostility toward Ahlquist, who described herself as an atheist. Three local flower shops refused to deliver flowers that were purchased for her. Police were dispatched to escort Ahlquist between classes because she had received death threats. State Rep. Peter Palumbo called Ahlquist an “evil little thing” in a local radio interview (Abby Goodnough, “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2012).

While it is acceptable to have a civil debate about the constitutionality of prayer in public schools, the bullying of a teenage girl by adult Christians is a sheer embarrassment for the Body of Christ. It should serve as a lesson to follow the words of Jesus when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).

The real enemy

Finally, we should have confidence that the Church will survive attacks from atheists, just as it has survived similar attacks throughout history. During the French Revolution the altar at the historic Notre Dame cathedral was torn down and replaced with an altar dedicated to Liberty. The inscription “To Philosophy” was carved over the massive cathedral doors. But in the next century France would give rise to saints like Thérèse of Lisieux and John Vianney. After World War II, the Communist party gained control of Poland, seized Church property, and imprisoned thousands of priests. But after the Iron Curtain fell the Church began to flourish and now nearly 90 percent of Poland is Catholic.

Jesus said to Peter that the powers of death would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18), and Paul said that no force, natural or supernatural, could ever separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). Instead of obsessively worrying about atheist mockery that makes the Church look ridiculous, we should take steps to not become ignorant or offensive Christians who accomplish the same thing. We would do well to remember the immortal words of one Pogo Possum, who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Fortunately, if we kill this “enemy,” what we actually kill is what Paul called “the old self” (Col. 3:9), and in dying to this self we will rise with new life in Christ and be able to face any attacks, verbal, physical or spiritual, our critics lob at us.”

Love,
Matthew

Christian accord, Acts 1:14 – Salvation

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Is “Faith Alone” enough?

The Protestant Reformation was launched when a Catholic priest named Martin Luther thought he’d discovered something in the Bible that the Church had been missing for centuries. That discovery was salvation by faith alone—that is, apart from doing good works. This core Reformation doctrine of sola fide is a major dividing line between Catholics and Protestants.

Just like sola scriptura, this doctrine ends up dividing Protestants from each other just as much (and sometimes even more) as it divides them from Catholics. Over the years, “faith alone” has come to mean different things to different Protestants.

There are some (known as Free Grace Protestants) who have taken the principle so far that they believe even apostates can be completely confident in their salvation. At the other end of the spectrum are legalistic or Fundamentalist groups that, while giving lip service to salvation by faith alone, nevertheless demand a severe lifestyle from their members.

Nor is the debate over salvation by faith alone limited to extreme fringe groups. In fact, it began in the sixteenth century and shows no signs of letting up in the twenty-first. A recent book from one of the most popular Evangelical publishers devoted over 300 pages to an academic debate between five scholars on the nature of justification (one was a Catholic)

And justification is only the beginning. Similar debate books have been written about sanctification, pluralism, eternal security, law and gospel, and other related topics. And so as we seek accord, we will look to see if the principles that allow Protestants who disagree over salvation nonetheless to identify with one another and to worship together might call for the embrace of Catholics as well.

Are You Saved?

Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

Although Christians sometimes think of salvation in fairly simple terms (going to heaven instead of hell), anyone who spends much time thinking or talking about the subject will quickly discover that there are numerous shades of meaning.

Nearly all Christians, even those who speak of salvation as if it occurred whole and entire at a single point in time, with no potential to ever be lost, recognize that God’s work in people typically involves a process that is extended over time.

In the Evangelical tradition that I came from, we thought of salvation in three basic stages: 1) justification, which was the point at which someone received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and thus was guaranteed heaven, 2) sanctification, which was the process by which God transformed the individual’s life from one of sin to sainthood, and 3) glorification, which was the final, complete transformation into perfection that occurred once someone entered eternal life in heaven.

Stages of Salvation

Where we differ, where we agree

Although this threefold process is described differently among Protestant traditions, most affirm something like it. A critical feature of this theology is that during each stage, the causes of and effects on one’s salvation can differ. For example, whereas the initial stage of salvation (“ justification”) might be considered a one-way act of God based on faith alone, resulting in heaven or hell, the second stage (“sanctification”) may rely heavily on the actions of the individual and only affect one’s degree of reward or punishment.

The importance of these salvation “stages” is that although Protestants will often speak of salvation as a single moment in time with everlasting effects, most agree that there is more to the story. Sola fide, in most Protestant minds, refers only to one’s initial justification. This happens to coincide nicely with the Catholic view of baptism—it is entirely faith-based, distinct from a person’s works, and instantly brings us into a saving relationship with God.

For many Protestants, the parallels break down after that because the Church teaches that saving grace can be lost or increased via works (“faith working through love” per Galatians 5:6)—but there are Protestants who teach something similar to this as well. In the end, the differences some- times come down more to terminology and fine-grained distinctions than to entirely different salvation plans as is often believed.

Finding Common Ground

We often are not as far apart as we think

In Principle Protestants Agree: Salvation is in some sense a process involving various stages, each with different requirements and effects.

In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Salvation is an ongoing process with different requirements at different stages that can increase, decrease, eradicate, or regain God’s saving grace in our lives.”

Love, and Christian accord, harmony, peace, love, and deep, true affection,
Matthew

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