Archive for July 2007

Why I love Jesus

July 24, 2007

Michael Liccione tagged me to explain why I love Jesus.  Since this is the closest thing I’ll ever have to an Emmy Nomination, I’ll take this tag as a great honor and happily write such a post. 

1.  I love Jesus because I am awed that God created the world out of love for us.  How else can I thank Him for His gift except by loving Him back?  See my post concerning my reversion to the Catholic Church.

2.  I love Jesus because I don’t have to choose between pursuing the Truth and pursuing happiness.  I don’t have to choose to live in ignorance to become happy:  when I pursue the Truth, I am pursuing happiness. 

3.  I love Jesus because He gives my life meaning.  My life had no aim before He found me.  I wondered what the purpose of doing well in school, getting a good job, or any worldly pursuit is if I am just going to die like everyone else.  Jesus makes even the smallest task an opportunity to show great love. 

4. I love Jesus because He died on the cross for me.  Whenever I wonder why God allowed so much evil in this world, I find it comforting that God chose to suffer with and for us.  Whenever I wonder why God could allow so much evil, I remind myself that the greatest evil has already been committed when Jesus was killed, and out of that greatest of evils came the greatest of goods.  God turned even the most gruesome instrument of torture into the greatest sign of love. 

5.  I love Jesus because He makes all things new.  Over the past five years, God has transformed me into the person He wanted me to become, often despite my resistance.  I was once emotionally wrecked, hard of heart, spiritually bankrupt, unaffable, unapproachable.  I had closed myself off to others so that they could never hurt me.  In fact, when I first told my family that I was entering the seminary, my brother, sister and mom never thought I’d last.  As my sister said, I just wasn’t a “people person.”  But Jesus transformed me, teaching me how to open myself up to loving and being loved.  He’s healed my broken relationships, softened my heart, and taught me that I am lovable.  I am still a broken person, but Christ is making me whole.   

I don’t know who I’m going to tag.  I’ll have to think about it a bit.   

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Popular Religion

July 18, 2007

I am an amateur philosopher, and with the way things are going in my diocese it sounds like I’m going to be a semi-professional one some day.  I love philosophy.  I love studying the time-honored, vexing problems.  I enjoy clever arguments and the pursuit of Truth.  I love the insights that philosophy gives me into myself and how philosophy informs faith.

Needless to say most people do not agree.  As a matter of fact, most people see philosophy as a very cold, heartless discipline.  It’s not nice to take someone’s cherished beliefs or practices and put them under the microscope of rational analysis.  Most people do not want to combine cold, precise rational thinking with religion, which people often use as a means of emotional support. 

I formed this general theory in part after I saw the vastly negative reaction to the Church’s recent proclamation that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church.  Most people have two basic problems with this proclamation, neither of which are heavy weights intellectually.  First, they think that the dubium states that non-Catholics cannot obtain heaven, and secondly they think the Church is being “snobbish” for claiming that she has the claim on the Truth.  I’m not going to go into detail on why either of these claims are silly because the vast majority of my readership probably knows already.  

I remember when I first started debating with other people.  Often times, I would not read certain sources because I did not want to be shaken from my position.  Hearing the other person’s opinion might require me to change the way I view the world, and it is always easier to maintain the status quo than to reevaluate one’s position.  It took a lot of effort to get over that habit, and I now regularly read material from authors who disagree with me.  But most people aren’t willing to make this step into the unknown.  Most people find their religion emotionally satisfying, and examining those beliefs rationally pushes one away from that emotional stability.  Hence, most people avoid allowing religion to be subjected to reason, often resorting to arguments from outrage e.g. the arguments I listed above against the Catholic Church being the one, true Church.

However, I tend to agree with Plato (and Aristotle) on this one.  Ironically, if we seek satisfaction in our immediate comfort i.e. the emotions, then we are never going to be truly happy:  our emotions are so fickle that they simply cannot provide a stable foundation for happiness.  Paradoxically, it’s only in that cold, heartless reason in which we seek unchanging Truth that we can obtain happiness.  If we derive satisfaction from something that cannot change, then once we obtain said Truth it cannot be taken away from us so easily, and consequentially happiness cannot be taken away from us so easily.  And interestingly enough, one of my former professors once said that in all its dryness, all philosophy wrestles with the problem of evil in some way.  It’s reasoned faith that’s going to provide us support in times of trial, not an unquestioned set of undisputable beliefs.

But then again, this post will probably never do anyone any good.  It takes too much intellectual honesty to realize that one is holding onto a belief for purely emotional reasons:  indeed, I wonder how frequently a person is able to do away with such “reasons” altogether.  But the very people I am criticizing will never come to such a realization because they are too accustomed to seeking only emotional satisfaction from religion.  If people opt out of the reason game, then there’s no arguing with them.  Unfortunately for them, as soon as they opt out of the reason game their faith will not give them the support they need in times of trial, for no warm feeling can overcome the grief one feels with the death of a loved one. 

Invisible Children

July 17, 2007

For a long time, I considered the killing of innocents to be perhaps the most heinous crime that a person could commit.  And yet, a thought recently occurred to me:  what if I kidnapped young children from their homes, attempted to brainwash kids to join my rebel army, killed the majority of the children that didn’t submit to my pressure, and then used the brainwashed kids to continue the kidnapping campaign for me?  Would that be a more heinous crime than merely killing innocent children?  I think so.

Unfortunately, children from the Sudan are actually going through the exact process that I describe.  This past Sunday, I watched a video entitled Invisible Children. This documentary was shot by three graduate students from a university in California on their trip to Africa.  They brought a camcorder, but they had no idea that they would film what they did.  Children, fearing for their lives, would leave their homes every night because they are not safe in their homes.  Men from a group attempting to overthrow the government kidnap children from their homes at night in order to fuel their resistence to the government.  The children leave their homes every night and sleep in common areas for mutual protection.

Of course, the UN and the world community refuse to call evil ‘evil’ when they see it.  Unfortunately, I only saw the 35 minute version of the DVD, so I am not as well versed as I would like to be.  There is a longer version which goes into more detail on how the situation developed, who the culprits are, etc.  I plan on buying the DVD and doing what I can to get the message out about these horrible crimes against human dignity.  I would encourage any of my readers to do the same, or find one of the numerous showings of the film that will be happening in the upcoming months.

   

Euthanasia in American Culture

July 16, 2007

I was watching the new episode of the Closer on t.v. tonight, and the subject of euthanasia was brought up.  I was a bit surprised with the turn that the episode took.  The last t.v. show that I watched concerning euthanasia was about ten years ago, and it was a show involving an elderly Dick Van Dyke.  Dick’s character called the murderer who euthanised his sickly patient to be brave for doing what he himself did not have the courage to do.  However, in this episode of the Closer, the main character showed high emotions and indignance at a person euthanizing seven people to earn money, even hinting that she hoped he shared his victims’ fates.  Modern t.v. and movie producers just don’t side with the Catholic view of things all that often.

Just a few years ago, the country had highly favorable opinions to euthanasia.  As this article from this group of articles reports, euthanasia advocates argued that the only arguments against the practice were coming from religious groups, obviously meaning that those arguments could be discounted out of hand.  However, the tide changed when disabilities groups got on the band wagon, arguing that euthanasia diminished respect for the disabled, etc.  Surprisingly, today’s USA is slightly more opposed to euthansia than in support of it.

I guess that constitutes a good thing.  A few years back, the legalization of the practice seemed almost inevitable, but now it does not.  However, I don’t think we should breathe a sigh of relief just yet.  Being the student of human nature that I claim to be, people’s opinions on different moral issues has a tendency to change when money becomes a factor.  I wonder what public opinion is going to look like in 2020 when our social security system has broken down, and 2 youth are supporting 1 retiree in this country?  Will our country’s solution to the social security crisis be to kill off our old people because it is financially expedient? 

Update

July 9, 2007

I have a lot to write about, but I don’t have the energy to do so at the moment.  I just got back from the Midwestern Steubenville retreat, and I’d like to post my thoughts, good and bad, about the event.  Secondly, I have a question about St. Thomas’ psychology which I’d like to post, and hopefully I can get some meaningful responses.  I also have some brief comments about Summorum Pontificum, but overall Michael Liccione has said about everything that I wanted to say over at his blog. 

Finally, I’m sad to learn that the Pontificator has hung up his keyboard for good.  I’m going to miss his articles, and I hope that he remains active enough on the blogosphere to pop his head into a few Catholic blogs every once and a while.   

Explaining Philosophical Problems

July 3, 2007

Philosophers have the difficult task of explaining philosophical concepts to non-philosophers.  Most philosophers have long since stopped trying to explain why philosophical problems really are problems, especially to those people who ask only to mock the philosopher.  However, for honest inquirers (and for school of religion students wanting to know what ‘nature’ means in the Church’s proclamations on the Trinity), philosophers must find easy ways to accurately and simply state the problem.  I think I have discovered an easy way of at least introducing the problem of the One and the Many, and I’d like to hear feedback on my formulation of the problem.  I’m not exactly sure that my formulation is the same formulation of the Problem that we see today, or even if it asks the same questions that Parmenides raises.  Nevertheless, I think my formulation is easy to understand, and it serves as a good introduction as to why some people think that “spooky” things such as forms or natures exist (as a matter of fact, one might argue that I am giving a phrasing of the problem of universals instead of the problem of the one and the many!). 

First, I begin with a story concerning the nature of explanation, a story relatively well-known in philosophical circles.  Two quantum physicists were at their university office, and they were arguing about the structure of the universe and its numerous intricacies.  Both had reached a state of bewilderment.  At that moment, the janitor walks in and laughs at them.  He says, “Are you talking about all that nonsense about the universe again?”

The two scientists reply, “it’s not nonsense.  However, since you think it is nonsense you must have a better solution to these problems, problems which have bewildered the best of minds.”

The janitor responded, “Yes, in fact I do.  The structure of the universe is very simple.  Everything is sitting on the shoulders of a giant man.”

The scientists laughed.  “So what is the man standing on?”

“He’s standing on the back of a giant turtle.”

“What’s the turtle standing on?”

“Another turtle.”

“And that turtle?”

“It’s turtles all the way down.”
————-

The story tells us something about the nature of a good explanation.  In order for an explanation to be adequate, it must not be open to the same questions as the question it attempts to answer.  The janitor cannot give an explanation of what the man is standing on by giving an infinite number of turtles.  Because there is no ultimate ground that the turtles are standing upon, then the janitor never adequately answers the original question of what the man was standing on, no matter how many turtles he adds.  Nor, after positing several turtles, does saying “I don’t know what that turtle is standing on” or arbitrarily naming a particular turtle the final grounding of the man without a good reason ultimately give an explanation of what the man is standing on. 

With that said, here’s my formulation of the Problem of the One and the Many (which also touches heavily upon the realist/anti-realist debates).  Let’s say that there are three men standing before us.  Each of them are different in some way, but each of them are the same in some way.  In the modern world, we all seem to agree on what makes the men different:  each man is composed of different matter e.g. bones and tissues than the other men.  But we also want to say that all men are the same in some way:  when we talk about them, we say that person A is a man, B is a man, and C is a man.  When we call them each a man, we are using the word man univocally, meaning that it applies to each one in the same way.  If the material that the men are composed of is the basis for their multiplicity, what is the basis for their unity under the concept of Man? 

When most people are asked this question, their first response is to speak of DNA.  Since all of them have a similar “blueprint,” they are all men.  But this answer is problematic.  DNA is composed of proteins.  Let’s say that there are three proteins sitting in front of us.  We want to say that each of them is different from the other proteins, but we also want to say that the term ‘protein’ applies to them all in the same way.  What is the basis for that unity?

Referring to the material components of a thing to explain why a term can be applied to all things seems to commit the same mistake as the janitor does.  The janitor makes the mistake of trying to explain the grounding of a man with an entity that is subject to the same problem as the original case.  He doesn’t solve the problem, but “moves it back a step.”  Nor does saying that the three men “are similar” give any sort of answer because it merely rephrases the problem:  in what way are the three men similar such that we can call all three of them men?

At this point, the different solutions can be introduced.  To be brief, the conceptualist would argue that the unity lies in a concept in our head.  The nominalist might argue that the similarities are brute facts, meaning that they cannot be explained, and the Platonist would argue for an object existing in reality which serves as an objective basis for the property of being man. 

So, my philosophical readers, is the formulation what I advertised:  simple but accurate?