Archive for September 2007

Expelled

September 28, 2007

I was aware of it previously, but I have become painfully aware of it just in the last few months:  theistic philosophers are not taken seriously by atheistic philosophers.  First, the Maverick Philosopher asks why atheist philosophers dismiss theism a priori, and why only theists actually weigh both sides of the argument.  Richard Dawkins et al–who are meeting this weekend in Washington DC for an ego massage–recently advocated the woefully ignorant argument that God must be super-complex to have created the universe.  He could have read to q.3 of the Prima Pars of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae to realize that he is attacking a strawman…better yet, he could have actually read a work of any major western theist to come to that realization.  But what’s worse is that the same argument is advanced by several major philosophers.  I just read the same argument presented in Collin McGinn’s Mysterious Flame earlier this week; Bertrand Russell finds Mill’s rhetorical question, “what created God?” to be decisive against theism (isn’t this the same man who claimed that if God exists He never provided enough evidence?).  And finally, John Searle dismisses theism with a wave of the hand in more than one of his works. 

Now I am pretty convinced that God isn’t going to condemn a person who is honestly and diligently seeking the Truth but fails to find it before his death; but can any of these people be labelled as honest enquirers?  It’s not that I think atheism doesn’t have a case; indeed, I think the large majority of philosophers take atheism to be epistemically justifiable, even if they believe it is fundamentally misguided.  But honest enquiry neither begins nor ends with a curt dismissal of the opposition’s arguments.

However, that is all old ground.  What’s equally interesting is the position of evolution within academia.  Now for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that some form of evolutionary theory is ultimately true.  Let’s also assume that the scientific community widely supports such a theory, despite some large unanswered questions.  Even if this is all true, it is against the procedure of good, healthy science to resort to demonization to squelch any dissenting voices.  If there is no skepticism, then the scientific method becomes just another way of enshrining dogmas. 

But Ben Stein, in a new documentary entitled Expelled documents how evolution has become a center piece of modern biology, and those who are skeptical in any way are denied tenure, demonized, and ridiculed.  One doesn’t have to be an advocate of intelligent design to see the problem here.  I haven’t seen the documentary myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve seen what most professional atheists do to theists:  they ignore them without ever bothering to learn their arguments.  Does it really shock me that the same thing is going on in biology departments across the United States?

Three gold stars go to Kuhn for being honest enough to admit that paradigm shifts in science often have less to do with intellectual merit and much to do with irrational processes in academia.  It takes intellectual honesty and healthy skepticism to find the truth, not political maneuvering. 

Swab the Deck, Scallywag!

September 19, 2007

For all of you uncivilized readers who are so uncivil that you are unaware of major international holidays, today is the international talk like a pirate day.  Do your civic duty and comply, scurvy dogs!

Best. Book. Ever.

September 18, 2007

I just bought this book today.  I highly recommend it to any Catholic male with a pulse.  And any book with Cardinal Ratzinger holding a gigantic beer stein on the cover automatically makes it the coolest book of the year.

Holy Mother God

September 14, 2007

I was sitting at the lunch table today, and a bunch of seminarians were somewhat discussing, somewhat complaining about an assignment they had just turned in for a theology class.  The topic was this:  from the stance of a pure philosophy, is it permissible to refer to God as a Mother using analogical language?  The one seminarian summed up what everyone else seemed to be have written:  yes, [s]he can, but they felt guilty saying it.  Apparently the professor argued the affirmative or something.

I pulled a Paul Hamilton, counted to ten, and began unloading.  I reject the question, and I am at a loss as to what this particular theology professor was trying to prove.  Yes, from a purely philosophical standpoint, God can be called mother; but no Catholic theologian worth his degree (or Catholic philosopher, for that matter) uses philosophy unguided by revelation.  Such a thing has little to no support in the Tradition of the Church:  every great philosopher in the history of the Church has started from revelation and used philosophy with an eye on helping us grasp revelation better.  That doesn’t mean that they always used theological premisses in their arguments, but it does mean that they concocted their philosophy in service of revelation.  Hence, the question asked in class is fundamentally misguided.  If I were in that class, I would have rejected the question altogether, for it seems to make a highly questionable assumption about the relationship between theology and her handmaiden, philosophy.

But to the question of whether God can be called mother via analogy.  Yes, He can.  But God can also be called a cockroach, or a penis, or a dead baby carcass via analogy; therefore, aside from sin, the fact is that anything created by God can be compared to Him by the mere fact that He created it.  Thus I find that question to be, at the very least, boring.  The question is why we should we use ‘mother’ when–to understate my case a bit– ‘Father’ has so much going for it.  It seems that for every point in favor of calling God mother, we can find one for calling God Father, too. 

I don’t see how any argument raised in favor of calling God mother via analogy can possibly raise mother to the status of being a name preferable to Father.  However, the inverse does not seem true, for it seems that there is ample reason to prefer (and yes, even mandate!) the use of Father over and above mother.  For one, Jesus was a Son.  He was not a male merely by analogy (because He is both true God and true Man), nor is He a Son merely by analogy.  For one, He is the Son of Mary:  Mary is not Jesus’ mother analogically, but univocally speaking.  We call Mary Jesus’ Mother because, as the Church has dogmatically declared, Mary was the Mother of the whole Jesus, not just His human nature.  But if that’s the case, then why would we want to call the Godhead mother?  The Son has a mother, so it seems highly appropriate to call the Godhead which sent the Son into the world His Father.  Not only that, but Jesus did not reveal God as mother:  He revealled the Godhead as Father.  The question, then, should be why we should prefer to call the Father something which seems to twist the title which the God Incarnate chose for the Being which eternally begot Him.  Nor do I think that arguments from the Old Testament in which God is sometimes described with feminine characteristics seem like much of an argument, for this suggestion falls prey to the same criticisms I have already raised:  God is also described in masculine terms in Scripture, and Jesus–whose words we as Christians should *probably* treat with the highest respect–called God Father unequivocally. 

As a final objection, someone brought up that by calling God mother may serve ecumenical purposes.  This seminarian said this half-heartedly.  I am almost positive that he didn’t like the argument himself, but he obviously heard someone say it (I can only guess who).  But this argument is fundamentally misguided.  Based on what I’ve said, it seems that the supporters of calling mother God need to provide an argument as to why the revelation we have been provided as well as Jesus’ actual familial situation merits calling God mother.  If they cannot, then there is no room in Christianity for us to call God something which seems to thumb our noses at what Jesus clearly and explicitly called the Godhead.  Without such an argument, the argument from ecumenism does not fly.  We should not be aiming for the least common denominator of agreement in ecumenism, but the drawing of those not fully in the Church back into [full] communion.  But unless a good argument is made, I don’t see how such ecumenists can avoid the charge of compromising an important aspect of Church teaching, a title for God revealled to us by One who seems to know better than us. 

I cannot even begin to comprehend what the purpose of this exercise was.  We have a group of people in the Church–the whacky section of feminism (not to be confused with the feminism of JPII) is currently advocating calling God Mother, not just within the context of philosophy, but in our theology as well.  So frame the topic in such a way that we even appear to be lending support to such a feminist ideology, if we are not in fact providing support for it?  If a professor wants to do philosophy with the intent of the Church in his mind, he probably ought to do it the way our greatest theological-philosophical minds did it.

Protestants and the Real Presence

September 13, 2007

I was talking to another seminarian last night who recently had the undesirable (but necessary, from the Catholic standpoint) of telling a Protestant friend that he knew well that she was not in the proper state to receive communion.  Interestingly enough, several of the other seminarians listening gave their own stories about how Protestants just don’t understand why Catholics forbid them to receive. 

Perhaps I’ve just been Catholic all my life, and so therefore I just haven’t seen enough of Protestant-land to understand why they don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing.  So I am going to construct an argument as to why Protestants should not receive, and I would like those few Protestants who read my blog respond.  This argument assumes the denial of the Real Presence, that Jesus is really present in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the bread and wine–in fact, Catholics even go so far as to say that the “bread” and “wine” are no longer even bread and wine at all, but only appear to be so, and that the species are in reality Jesus.  There’s nothing metaphorical about it.  With that said.

1.  Assume that a given Protestant does not believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence.

2. Idolatry is strictly forbidden; worshipping someone or some thing which is not God is morally repugnant. 

3.  When a Protestant says, “amen” before receiving Catholic Communion, he is publically stating that he believes the Eucharist is in fact God, given that he knows Catholic teaching on the matter.

4.  If the Eucharist is not in fact God, then the Protestant who receives Communion believes that he is committing an act of idolatry.

So then what is it that Protestants don’t see?  Why, despite the threat of contradicting their beliefs and committing an act of idolatry to boot, do many Protestants still receive? 

Christianity and the Poor

September 6, 2007

Brandon over at Sirius linked to this article, which talks about what we are supposed to do when we encounter a poor person begging for money.  I thought the author’s response was reasonable, and she offers some wonderful anecdotes. 

When I was first interviewing for my seminary in DC, I had a break between meetings and I decided to go to the National Shrine to take some pictures.  As I was walking up the main stairway, I encountered a man who was obviously not well off.  Now at that time I tended to be of the mindset of “you-don’t-know-what-they’ll-do-with-that-money.”  But I don’t know what got into me that day; maybe I had already become unconsciously exasperated with some of the things that were happening in my other seminary at the time, or maybe my daily reception of the Eucharist really was melting my stony heart away. 

Whatever the cause, I took the time to acknowledge this man.  He didn’t get in my face or anything; as a matter of fact, I wonder if he would have said anything if I hadn’t first made it clear that I noticed him.  The man asked me for some money.  I pulled out a little bit of what I had and gave it to him.  The man said thank you.  Then, after a brief pause, he broke down in tears, saying that I was the first person who had acknowledged him all day.  He turned his back on me, effectively ending the conversation.  Since it was completely foreign to me to give money to strangers, I was positively dumbfounded by what had just happened, and I had no idea what I should have done.  There is a guy at Theological College who is incredibily holy, who regularly meets and comforts such people; but I was not (and still am not) capable of doing that type of thing. 

I’ll never forget that man.  He did not make a salespitch when I walked past, but merely asked for money after I said hello.  Afterwards I began to wonder how many people just like him I had walked by in my life, people who were genuinely poor.  I came to the same conclusion that the author of the article I cited above came to:  if the person abuses the gift I give him, then that is his fault; if I fail to be generous with what I have, that is my fault.  I also like the list of rules that the author gives.  I have made the mistake of giving to people who I knew were guilt tripping me, etc.  I think I might adopt those rules for myself.

Teresia Benedicta a Cruce

September 3, 2007

I just wrote a post about Mother Teresa, an article which pointed out the importance that suffering plays in the Christian life.  Suffering has redemptive value and is a gift to the person who wishes to suffer as another Christ. 

Interestingly, I was having a conversation with a group of seminarians over breakfast, and one of them made a very good observation.  Edith Stein’s religious name is often translated, “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.”  However, anyone with a certain rudimentary knowledge of Latin will tell you that it is a bad translation.  The Latin name that she chose was “Teresia Benedicta a Cruce.”  ‘A Cruce’ cannot be translated ‘of the Cross’ by any stretch of the imagination:  if she wanted her name to be “of the Cross” she would have used the genitive “Crucis.”  The name Benedicta is actually a passive participle, and the “a Cruce” appears to be an ablative of agent (perhaps personifying the Cross).  Thus, a better translation seems to be Teresa, Blessed by the Cross.  This is one of those times when what appears to be a dry, boring academic exercise provides profound spiritual depth.  Edith Stein’s very name makes the beautiful point that the Cross is not something to be avoided, but a source of strength and blessing.  How many of us Christians actually see the crosses we bear as blessings? 

I recently joked with a couple of seminarians that I am the epitome of a Catholic intellectual:  I like to take everything–even my suffering–in an abstracted, non-particularized way.  While I am not always desirous that God give me more suffering, sometimes I ask God to allow me to participate in carrying His Cross to a much greater degree; however, God wisely does not grant my requests as I would like Him to because only He is fully aware of how profoundly weak I am.  He knows that if He gave me too much of His Cross at one time, its weight would crush me.  I complain enough about my crosses as it is; I am only ready to see a Cross upon my back as a blessing in the abstract.