Archive for March, 2009


From an Atheist Forum

March 31, 2009

Snippets from exchanges with various atheists on a forum recently:

 The Proximity of Truth (Can atheists know the truth?)
While the Scripture you speak of exists (“No one approaches the Father but through me.” (John 14:6) St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, quoting St. Ambrose, “All profound truth, no matter where it is found, has the Holy Spirit for its author.”

Again, St Justin stated: “God is the Word of whom the whole human race are partakers….” and (Meister) Eckhart spoke of an ancient sage in the following terms: “Our most ancient philosophers found the truth long, long before…ever there was a Christian faith at all as it is now.”

Thomas of Villenova taught…. “Our religion is from the beginning of the world….if you saw Abraham, and Moses, and David alongside Peter and Andrew and Augustine and Jerome, you would observe, in all essential things, a perfect identity.”

There’s a profound principle in these words of great Christians, one that can allow a level of proximity (instead of exclusivity, which you seem to be preaching here) between different faiths even if they hold doctrinal differences.

When Jesus says “No one approaches the Father but through me”, he refers to those whose hearts are on his path, whose beings have a resonant identity with his, whose spirits are congruent with his – they are the ones who approach God through Jesus, even if they have never seen or heard Jesus (They could even be atheists).

They cultivate an essential identity which connects and accords with the spirit and truth of his teachings though they may know little or nothing about Jesus himself. It is a person’s inner reality (and the actions which spring from it) that is the deciding factor.

 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven…. And every one that heareth these sayings, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.” (Matthew 7:22-27)

The Scandal Of Neutrality (The Agnostic)
I think you may have a very puerile understanding of what “the Church” means, perhaps some sort of social organization or people sitting in the pews of a building. Catholics are “ecclesial” and think of “the Church” as the “mystical body of Christ.” In the words of a lovely hymn I sang yesterday:

 “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.
Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

1. Once we were people afraid,
lost in the night.
Then by your cross we were saved;
dead became living,
life from your giving.

2. Something which we have known,
something we’ve touched,
what we have seen with our eyes:
this we have heard;
life giving Word.

3. He chose to give of himself,
became our bread.
Broken, that we might live.
Love beyond love,
pain for our pain.

4. We are the presence of God;
this is our call.
Now to become bread and wine:
food for the hungry,
life for the weary,
for to live with the Lord,
we must die with the Lord.”

It is Church’s monumental answer (No!) to that piece of popular secular advice: “Get over it!”

We have “killed the author of life.” [Peter in Acts 3:15] And our lives need to be rededicated to Him. And anything worth doing is done in relationship with others, based on love. That is what the Church is and the whole purpose of our Catholic faith is to be a part of that.

My suspicion of you and others who “choose not to choose” is that you advocate the “square circle,” a neutrality that is not there. Your god is Neutrality and you refuse to commit much to anything. In certain intellectual regions your God travels under other names such as Autonomy and Rights. To recap a bit from an essay by J. Budziszewski, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas and a specialist  in ethical and political theory:

“We meet this jealous and negating god on the philosophic right, where conservatives like Michael Oakeshott tell us that the specific and limited activity of “governing” has “nothing to do” with natural law or morals. We encounter him on the philosophic left, where liberals like John Rawls and Marxists like Jurgen Habermas invent devices like the Veil of Ignorance and the Ideal Speech Situation to convince us that if we wish to understand truly the principles of justice, we must pretend to forget not only who we are, but also everything we ever thought we knew about good and evil.

We meet this god in law, where many jurists treat ethical distinctions such as “family” vs. “non-family” as “invidious classifications” that deny citizens the equal protection of the law. We meet him in education, where elementary school children are offered books like Daddy’s Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride.

In fact, we meet this god everywhere: in the university, in the movie theatre, in many churches and synagogues, and, it goes without saying, on the even more ubiquitous altar of the television.

It might seem remarkable that people who insist that tolerance means moral neutrality should themselves be so earnest in ridiculing those who aren’t neutral. But of course, they themselves aren’t neutral either.

The scandal of Neutrality is that its worshipers cannot answer the question “Why be neutral?” without committing themselves to particular goods-social peace, self-expression, self-esteem, ethnic pride, or what have you-thereby violating their own desideratum of Neutrality. Yet even this is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, namely, there is no such thing as Neutrality. It isn’t merely unachievable, like a perfect circle; it is unthinkable and unapproachable, like a square circle. Whether we deem it better to take a stand or be silent, we’ve offended this god in the very act of deeming.”


An Atheist Visionary

March 20, 2009

Visionary wrote:

Carl Sagan: “I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience.”


Derek Jeter wrote:

 And there is much more wonder in the Roman Church than in pseudo-religions. Religion and science have all too often invaded each other’s spheres. But faith and reason, while enjoying, as the Pope says, a legitimate independence or autonomy from each other, are also profoundly interdependent. Together, as John Paul II declared in his soaring prose from Fides et Ratio:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Faith and reason, the Pope says, are two orders of knowledge. But they are linked, and, to some extent, overlapping, orders. Some truths are known only by revelation; others only by philosophical, scientific or historical inquiry.

Thus it is that on the “two wings” of faith and reason the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. The overwhelming majority of scientists are people of faith and their faith is what helps them in their work. It is only in the distorted mind that we find this war of religion on science or vice versa.


Visionary says:

Jeter [Some truths are known only by revelation; others only by philosophical, scientific or historical inquiry.] Revelation produces no truth. It’s just comments by men to dupe other men. Gotta have proof to see truth. Same with philosophy – just mind games, not truth. Historical inquiry is very shaky and nothing to hang one’s hat on.

I can understand your retreat into religion after having mental problems; but that is no excuse after a few years. That should be enought time to get your head together and see the ‘Truth.’ We are tiny organisms on a tiny planet in a vast universe. When we die, we die dead. Face it.


Derek Jeter wrote:

“Visionary wrote: “Gotta have proof to see truth.”

 Ahh. Proof.  Michael Novak has written that there are two axioms that scientific materialists (visionaries with blindfolds) reject when they think about God and demand “proof”:

First, God is not to be found as a thing out in the world around us. Nothing that is, is quite like Him. Always one expects a little resemblance between creature and Creator, but the essential differences are vast. God is on a different wavelength entirely. These words of St. Augustine are like a burst of lightning: “I sought Thee everywhere, my God, never finding Thee, until I discovered Thee within: Not out among all the other furniture of the universe, but within.”  If God seeks us before we seek Him — I the sought and He the seeker — then He could not catch me until I looked within.

The second axiom is this: God cannot be found by any scientific method, since science is by definition limited to what can be known through evidence from matter. Anything that science discovers is, by definition, in part material.

That is not the wavelength on which God is to be found. To say that there is no scientific proof for the existence of God is obvious on its face.

There is a long tradition of philosophers, many of them secular philosophers, who have spent long hours trying to come very carefully and precisely to an idea of God that met what they experienced within, in the cool depths of their minds. Not by ecstasy, but by calm reflection. But all of this work becomes meaningless when “visionaries” like yourself cut these inquiries off at the knees by demanding “proof.”

The hidden assumption behind such a statement is often that faith is belief without evidence. Therefore, since there’s no scientific evidence for the divine, we should not believe in God. But that statement itself — that evidence is necessary — holds a further hidden premise that all evidence worth examining has to be scientific evidence.

And beneath that assumption, there’s the deeper worldview — it’s a kind of dogma — that science is the only reliable way to truth. But that itself is a faith statement. It’s a deep faith commitment because there’s no way you can set up a series of scientific experiments to prove that science is the only reliable guide to truth. It’s a creed.

So you are a religionist, Mr. Visionary. Join the crowd.

When you say “science” and that holier-than-thou “proof” canard that you dust off, all I see is Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: “Back off. I’m a scientist.” I spend my time in the company of Augustine, Pascal, Aquinas. I’ll leave Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins to Mr. Visionary.  


Visionary wrote

“Jeter, when you say “science” and that holier than thou “proof” canard that you dust off, all I see is Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: “Back off. I’m a scientist.” I spend my time in the company of Augustine, Pascal, Aquinas. I’ll leave Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins to Mr. Visionary.”

You have taken it all in, duped, since you have not concerned yourself with science (unable to understand solid geometry?). It all goes back to proving the bible is correct because it says so in the bible. I have spent my time with Augustine, Pascal, and Aquinas and it’s all nonsense. Ask any Jesuit. For some real fun go to Chardin. He may teach you a thing or two, if you can understand him. Don’t forget that the people conning you are making money at it.

Derek Jeter wrote

 “Visionary wrote: “Since you have not concerned yourself with science (unable to understand solid geometry?).”   

 Even the most science like of the sciences, geometry, uses metaphysical ideas like parallel lines extending into infinity.

Here is Alfred North Whitehead In Science and the Modern World (1925):

“My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivation from medieval theology.

The path of modern science was made straight, and smoothed, by deep convictions that every stray element in the world of human experience — from the number of hairs on one’s head to the lovely lily in the meadow — is thoroughly known to its Creator and, therefore, lies within a field of intelligibility; mutual connection, and multiple logics.

All these odd and angular levels of reality, given arduous, disciplined, and cooperative effort, are in principle penetrable by the human mind. If human beings are made in the image of the Creator, as the first chapters of the book of Genesis insist that they are, surely it is in their capacities to question, gain insight, and advance in understanding of the works of God.

In the great image portrayed by Michelangelo on the Sistine ceiling — the touch from finger to finger between the Creator and Adam — the mauve cloud behind the Creator’s head is painted in the shape of the human brain.”

Imago Dei, yes indeed. In a recent poll I read somewhere that 70% of modern scientists believe in God. The division you so desperately posit here, simply does not exist.


Talking Flannery

March 20, 2009

The Maximum Amount Of Seriousness Admits The Maximum Amount Of Comedy

Drama usually bases itself on the bedrock of original sin, whether the writer thinks in theological terms or not. Then, too, any character in a serious novel is supposed to carry a burden of meaning larger than himself. The novelist doesn’t write about people in a vacuum; he writes about people in a world where something is obviously lacking, where there is the general mystery of incompleteness and the particular tragedy of our own times to be demonstrated, and the novelist tries to give you, within the form of the book, a total experience of human nature at any time.

For this reason, the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul. Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama. The Christian novelist is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin. According to his heritage, he sees it not as a sickness or an accident of the environment, but as a responsible choice of offense against God which involves his eternal future. Either one is serious about salvation or one is not. And it is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy.

Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe. One reason a great deal of our contemporary fictions is humorless is because so many of these writers are relativists and have to be continually justifying the actions of their characters on a sliding scale of values.”   Flannery O’Connor

Posted on Mar 19, 2009 10:12 PM PDT

Galadriel says:

Wow! That’s an awesome quote from Flannery. I particular like the part about humor. “And it is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy. Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.”

I remember laughing myself silly the first time I read “The Violent Bear It a Way.” I guess some people wouldn’t find it funny. What this means is that they didn’t get it. I consider it one of the greatest novels ever written, along with Nobokov’s “Lolita” and Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” and many others. I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me, but everybody’s entitled to there own opinion. I’m not a literary critic. Just a person who’s read a lot of books and loves literature.

I’m getting ready to read “The Violent Bear It a Way” again. I would love to discuss it with you. Maybe you could shed some light on parts I don’t understand. I don’t really understand the title. I know it’s from a Bible verse: ” The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it a way”. I feel like subconsciously, beyond words, I understand it, but I don’t understand it intellectually, if you know what I mean. When I start reading the book again which should be very soon, I will post again.

Your post, in reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2009 6:34 AM PDT

Derek Jeter says:

Hi Galadriel:

You’re right, the title is taken from a verse of the Douay Bible: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” Matthew 11:12. “From the days of John the Baptist until now” means from Adam until God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

The most accepted meaning (Wikipedia) is that violence constantly attacks God and heaven, and that only those violent with the love of God can absorb it or bear it away. O’Connor shows this when Tarwater drowns Bishop: He commits a violent act, but the “accidental” baptism is an equally powerful act of violent love for God which bears the previous wrong away. It’s a little too paradoxical for me. I have trouble with the phrase “violent with the love of God.”

Another possible meaning (more agreeable with me) is that when God’s grace comes into contact with an errant life, a form of violent revelation occurs where falsehood and heresy is burnt off and the individual then sees reality with startling clarity. Those who undergo this spiritual violence take “the kingdom of God” with them as they go through the world.

I like this second one because it seems God’s providence is acting within us and forcing us to react to the violence. We can become inured to violence and it is only when we see it with a fresh mind or the mind of Christ (the Greek metanoia(repent) = understanding “the kingdom of God”) that we truly apprehend its meaning. It becomes a method of God’s instruction to his creatures.

The Wikipedia piece here.


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