Archive for September, 2009

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Be Thankful

September 30, 2009

 

In 1918, an elderly man named Charles Wilden entered the photographic studio of Eric Enstrom in Bovey, Minnesota, and a photograph was taken which became world-famous. The photograph taken by Enstrom, showing Wilden praying over his meal, was titled "Grace." Enstrom's daughter, Mrs. Rhoda Nyberg, later created a hand-painted version, and the scene became so popular, as it expressed the theme of contentedness and thankfulness for the simple things in life, that it was reproduced throughout the world. This iconic image (which is in the public domain) is, as of 2002, Minnesota's state photograph.

In 1918, an elderly man named Charles Wilden entered the photographic studio of Eric Enstrom in Bovey, Minnesota, and a photograph was taken which became world-famous. The photograph taken by Enstrom, showing Wilden praying over his meal, was titled "Grace." Enstrom's daughter, Mrs. Rhoda Nyberg, later created a hand-painted version, and the scene became so popular, as it expressed the theme of contentedness and thankfulness for the simple things in life, that it was reproduced throughout the world. This iconic image (which is in the public domain) is, as of 2002, Minnesota's state photograph.

Psalm 138
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and   your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Word of God
And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:15-17

Happiness Is A Gift
Because our turning toward happiness is a blind seeking we are, whenever happiness comes our way, the recipients of  something unforeseen, something unforeseeable, and therefore not subject to planning and intention. Happiness is essentially a gift; we’re not the forgers of our own felicity…Surely the “attainment of created good” can frequently be brought about by purposeful activity. By cleverness, energy, and diligence one can acquire a good many of the goods which are generally considered adjuncts of the happy life: food and drink house, garden, books, a rich and beautiful wife (perhaps). But we cannot make all these acquisitions, or even a single one of them, quench that thirst so mysterious to ourselves for what we call “happiness,” “reflected beatitude.” No one can obtain felicity by pursuit. This explains why one of the elements of being happy is the feeling that a debt of gratitude is owed, a debt impossible to pay. Now, we do not owe gratitude to ourselves. To be conscious of gratitude is to acknowledge a gift.
Happiness and Contemplation – Josef Pieper
Josef Pieper (May 4, 1904- November 6, 1997) was a German Catholic philosopher, at the forefront of the Neo-Thomistic wave in twentieth century Catholic philosophy. Among his most notable works are The Four Cardinal Virtues, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, The Philosophical Act, and Guide to Thomas Aquinas (published in England as Introduction to Thomas Aquinas). He translated C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, into German.

No One Is Owed Anything
A basic truth of Christian spirituality is this: no one is owed anything. Creation is the act by which God gives rise, every moment, to the totality of the finite world. Because God makes literally everything ex nihilo, nothing in the universe has a claim on its existence; rather, everything that exists holds its being as a gift. And therefore when we complain that we are not receiving the praise or the attention or the status that we deserve, we are speaking ontological nonsense. In light of the sheer gratuitousness of creation, the only proper response to existence is one of gratitude and admiration. Since no one deserves anything, all beauty and goodness that we see, in ourselves or in someone else, ought simply to be appreciated — and neither clung to nor resented.
The Strangest Way – Fr. Robert Barron
Father Barron is a nationally-renowned speaker, author and professor of theology at the University of St Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Incomparable Value Of Gratitude
In one of his letters Ignatius explains more at length his thought regarding gratitude.  In speaking of what is for him the almost unendurable thought of ingratitude, Ignatius energetically describes — both by negation and by affirmation — the unique power of gratitude in our relationship with God and with each other. He writes:

“May the highest grace and the everlasting love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.

It seems to me, in the light of the divine Goodness, though others may think differently, that ingratitude is one of the things most worthy of detestation before our Creator and Lord, and before all creatures capable of his divine and everlasting glory, out of all the evils and sins which can be imagined. For it is a failure to recognize the good things, the graces, and the gifts received. As such, it is the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins. On the contrary, recognition and gratitude for the good things and gifts re­ceived is greatly loved and esteemed both in heaven and on earth.”

It would be difficult to express more strongly a sense of the incomparable value of gratitude. If you and I were asked to name the most unbearable of all evils and sins in this world, what might we choose? If you and I were asked to identify “the cause, begin­ning, and origin of all evils and sins” in our world, how might we reply? For Ignatius, who has become so conscious of God as constantly pouring out gifts of love upon our world and upon each one of us, the answer to both questions is utterly clear: it is the simple failure to recognize (des-conocimiento) “the good things, the graces, and the gifts received” from God, simply not to know that there is a God who loves us and who is unceasingly, even this very day, bestowing gifts of love upon us.

What will happen in our lives and in our world when the recognition (conocimiento) of these gifts begins to grow within us? When day after day we consciously choose to recognize these gifts and the Giver’s love for us that is revealed through them? Then, Ignatius says, something “greatly loved and esteemed both in heaven and on earth” will come into our hearts, bringing great blessings into our lives. The first step in the practice of Ignatian examen is exactly this: “to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received” (Spiritual Exercises, 43) in the course of the hours we are reviewing — to recognize these gifts and, through them, God’s personal love for us.

In its first step, then, the examen begins with what is most fundamental in our spiritual lives. When the Scriptures record the history of God’s saving work in the world, the primary real­ity is always what God does. The people’s response is vital to their relationship with God as salvation history unfolds, but it is never the first reality; that is always the work of God, who takes the initiative in leading the people toward salvation. And what God continually does, Ignatius says, is to pour out gifts upon this people, past and present. The first step in the examen consists of recognizing the primary reality that shapes our daily lives. Some examples will concretize what this might mean in practice.
The Examen Prayer – Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher
Father Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V., was ordained in 1979 as a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, a religious community dedicated to retreats and spiritual formation according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He obtained his doctorate in 1983 from the Gregorian University. He has taught (St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA; Our Lady of Grace Seminary Residence, Boston, MA), assisted in formation work for twelve years, and served two terms as provincial in his own community. He has dedicated many years to an extensive ministry of retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching about the spiritual life.

The Test Of All Happiness Is Gratitude
The strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity. The goodness of the fairy tale was not affected by the fact that there might be more dragons than princesses; it was good to be in a fairy tale. The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom. Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?
Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (May 29, 1874 – June 14, 1936) was an influential English writer of the early 20th century. His prolific and diverse output included journalism, philosophy, poetry, biography, Christian apologetics, fantasy and detective fiction.

The Sense Of Wonder
“It is in fact the sense of wonder which transforms every littlest thing in the universe into a divine mystery…The sense of wonder expresses itself in gratitude, and I know of no finer exposition of the mysticism of gratitude than the concluding pages of Chesterton’s Autobiography: “The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them”.
Alan Watts, 1960’s Counter-Culture Guru on G.K. Chesterton

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The False Gods Of Expedient Mercy

September 29, 2009

Not long ago, in a book review of A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., I offered a reading selection that featured an exchange between the abbot of a monastery thousands of years in the future and a young mother who is going to euthanize her baby to end prolonging a death from exposure to radiation. It is a stark confrontation: on the one side the Church and on the other a perfect case for euthanasia. And yet the Abbot achieves something here that needs to be repeated again and again in the Church’s confrontation with the culture of death and its false gods of expedient mercy.

The Authority Of A Simple Direct Command
“I had a cat once, when I was a boy,” the abbot murmured slowly. “He was a big gray tomcat with shoulders like a small bulldog and a head and neck to match, and that sort of slouchy insolence that makes some of them look like the Devil’s own. He was pure cat. Do you know cats?”

“ A little.”

“Cat lovers don’t know cats. You can’t love all cats if you know cats, and the ones you can love if you know them are the ones that cat lovers don’t even like. Zeke was that kind of cat.

“This has a moral, of course?” She was watching him suspiciously.

“Only that I killed him.”

“Stop. Whatever you’re about to say, stop.”

“A truck hit him, crushed his back legs. He dragged himself under the house. Once in awhile he’d make a noise like a cat fight and thrash around a little, but mostly he just lay quietly and waited. ‘He ought to be destroyed,’ they kept telling me. After a few hours he dragged himself out from under the house crying for help. ‘He ought to be destroyed,’ they said. I wouldn’t let them do it. They said it was cruel to let him live. So finally I said I’d do it myself, if it had to be done. I got a gun and a shovel and took him to the edge of the woods, I stretched him out on the ground while I dug a hole, Then I shot him through the head. It was a small bore rifle. Zeke thrashed a couple of times, then got up and started dragging himself toward some bushes, I shot him again. It knocked him flat, so I thought he was dead, and put him in the hole. After a couple shovels of dirt, Zeke got up and pulled himself out of the hole and started for the bushes again.

I was crying louder than the cat. I had to kill him with the shovel. I had to put him back in the hole and use the blade of the shovel like a cleaver, and while I was chopping with it, Zeke was still thrashing around. They told me later it was just a spinal reflex, but I didn’t believe it. I knew that cat. He wanted to get to those bushes and just lie there and wait. I wished to God that I had only let him get to those bushes and die the way a cat would if you just let it alone – with dignity. I never felt right about it. Zeke was only a cat, but —

“Shut up!” she whispered.

“ – but even the ancient pagans noticed that Nature imposes nothing on you that nature doesn’t prepare you to bear. If that is true of a cat, then is it not more perfectly true of a creature with rational intellect and will – whatever you may believe of Heaven?”

“Shut up. Damn you, shut up!” she hissed.

If I’m being a little brutal,” said the priest, “then it is to you, not the baby. The baby, as you say, can’t understand. And you, as you say, are not complaining. Therefore — ”

“Therefore you are asking me to let her die slowly and –”

“No! I’m not asking you. As a priest of Christ I am commanding you by the authority of Almighty God not to lay hands on your child, not to offer her life in sacrifice to a false god of expedient mercy. I do not advise you. I adjure and command you in the name of Christ the King. Is that clear?”

Dom Zerchi had never spoken with such a voice before, and the ease with which the words came to his lips surprised even the priest. As he continued to look at her, her eyes fell. For an instant he had feared that the girl would laugh in his face. When Holy Church occasionally hinted that she still considered her authority to be supreme over all nations and superior to the authority of states, men in these times tended to snicker. And yet the authority of the command could still be sensed by a bitter girl with a dying child. It had been brutal to reason with her, and he regretted it. A simple direct command might accomplish what persuasion could not. She needed the voice of authority now, more than she needed persuasion. He could see it by the way she had wilted, although he had spoken the command as gently as his voice could manage.

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I thought of this passage when I read Sally Thomas’ gripping account of a modern day euthanasia episode in Amsterdam. Ms. Thomas had lived there years ago and one day had been befriended by a neighbor. Upon her return to the states a long occasional exchange of letters and Christmas cards had taken place over the years. One Christmas a self-published, spiral-bound, personal memoir of sorts had tumbled out of a manila envelope and she picked it up and started reading it. I’ll let her pick up the story from there:

I received in the mail a slender book, …its cover illustrated with a photograph of an ornate Art Nouveau door. The title, Life With and Without My Mother, answered the question before I could ask. Taking the book for a tribute to a long life well lived, my heart full for my friend, I sat down and began to read.

At ninety-six, still on her own, this vibrant and stubborn woman was beginning to fail. Always possessed of great physical beauty and vitality, with each visit she appeared more unkempt, more listless. Instead of proclaiming her independence, she began to demand help. This was difficult, and she was difficult about it. She was petulant in the manner of the very old, becoming childish again in her inability to know or to say what it was that she wanted. She complained of pain, which nothing seemed to make better.

Though her son visited from America as often as he could, it wasn’t enough. By his own admission, he found the invasion of his privacy and the interruption of his affairs difficult to bear. He felt haunted, too, by twin specters: the mother he had once known, whom hindsight’s clarity had revealed as overbearing and repressive; and the mother he knew now, overbearing, repressive, and infinitely needy.

I knew that in 2002 the Netherlands had led the way in legalizing euthanasia. I knew that, as early as 1972, the Dutch Reformed Church had affirmed voluntary euthanasia “under certain conditions” as a humane response to suffering. It is one thing to know that such things go on in the world. It is another to be privy to the thoughts of someone as he sits in a cafe with his journal, writing, “I feel that the doctors need to give her the helping hand she deserves. Why let her suffer? Really, the fun for her is over.”

The fun is over? I set the book down on my knees. So much, I thought, for Saint Paul’s quaint admonition that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Here we have no suffering. Never mind the millions who endured the atrocities and privations of the Second World War and felt their lives were still worth clinging to. We don’t think that way any more.

If a third world war began tomorrow, it would not be entirely, derangedly unreasonable to suppose that a population this wed to euthanasia would be the first to die. They would die not from bombs or bullets or anthrax mail but from despair. It would not be entirely, derangedly unreasonable to extrapolate the suicide of an entire culture from that picture of a man in a cafe, musing on his aged mother whose fun is at an end.

Advocates for euthanasia, like abortion advocates, don’t talk in terms of culture, preferring always the person of the moment — the particular individual who has decided, on the basis of “unacceptable suffering,” to renounce the gift of life. They opt for such words as release, as from a prison. They speak in terms of mercy and love. In her 2006 essay “At Death’s Window,” Anne Lamott describes a man who “gave his wife an overdose, and then sealed her upper body in a plastic trash bag with duct tape. Then he had done this to himself, and they died holding hands.” “What love!” Lamott declares.

Apparently, in my friend’s view, love meant listening to an old woman plan her deliberate exit from this life and never once saying, “Are you out of your mind?” It was this revelation, page after page, that gave me emotional whiplash. She had filed — with the death bureaucracy, an entity that still seems incredible to me — one official euthanasia request form after another. She had discussed this option routinely with her doctor, who had put her off, smiling, “Your time hasn’t come yet.” But as the months passed, she remained fixed on the idea. She would ring her son, at home in America, to declare her intent to move to some assisted-care facility, but always, always, the needle in her mind swung back to the point of simply checking out. And as her apparent suffering worsened, her son said nothing except, “Why not?”

Paging through my friend’s memoir, generously illustrated with his own photographs, I was struck by the unassuming loveliness of the placid canals, the winter trees, the brittle blue sky, the orderliness of bicycles chained to a railing. Like his mother he has an eye for beauty and form, and I could easily imagine him seeking refuge in long walks with his camera.

But once I understood where the story was heading, these quiet scenes began to seem not beautiful but sinister. The bicycles, all facing the same direction like a clump of grazing cattle, seemed to whisper of a darker consensus. So did other images, in which anonymous people walked along the canals, sat over coffee in the cafes, came and went from elegant Dutch buildings, all of them consenting to participate in this orderly culture in which, on the very same page, an aged woman’s aging child sat with a doctor, in a routine consultation, to decide that “continuing her life would serve no purpose to her or anyone else.”

As I read, I could picture the man I remembered, wearing a raveled purple sweater, glasses at the end of his nose, reading his mail on the front steps. I could hear him whistling on the other side of the kitchen wall. I could see, in the front yard of our apartment house, the walnut sapling he and his son planted in a moment of faith — or maybe of denial: Who plants a tree in a rented yard? I prayed, with each turn of the page, that my friend would wake the next morning in Amsterdam and find his mother already flown.

This prayer was not granted. On a wintry Saturday morning, my friend breakfasted on yogurt and granola, let in the cheery housekeeper, and made small talk with the relatives who had assembled, one by one, outside the bedroom. At 10:30 the doctor came. The family gathered at the bedside. His mother, my friend observed, appeared “barely visible” amid the bedclothes. She seemed to have shrunk overnight. The doctor explained the procedure — the “process implementation” — for a final time. Goodbyes were exchanged. “You were a dear,” his mother told her son. The doctor asked the mother once more whether “the euthanasia way” continued to be her wish. She responded emphatically that it was, adding, “This probably won’t work.” “Oh, yes, it will,” said the doctor firmly. And it did. There were no photographs of this moment, I noticed.

An argument for euthanasia was put forth by a reader of the piece: “I was once given a tour of a large state hospital for children in California. We were shown ward upon ward of micro- and micra-cephalic infants who would never know a parent or a home. To say that these people were created in the “image of God” begs the question. At the existential moment between life and death, is it not sufficient for us, the living, to commend these lives to God? What else can we do? Thomas offers few specifics.

The old argument still runs that only God has the right to decide the terminus of any life. But God is no longer the only one determining how long men and women live. Man himself is determining that, having extended his average lifespan from the thirties in colonial days to nearly seventy now. Medical advances often prolong the hopeless suffering of those whom Nature, left to herself, would release. Man must shoulder the responsibility thus thrust upon him and must devise some way of mercifully liberating the helplessly ill from needless existence.”

Is it not sufficient for us, the living, to commend these lives to God? What else can we do? Thomas offers few specifics. Later, in another reply, Thomas does in fact offer the example of the experience of a family she knows, “a family of many children and limited means and cramped living space. When the wife’s father, in his nineties, became unable to live alone, the family took him in. They converted their living room into a room for him. The two sons, then fifteen and thirteen, took care of his bodily needs, bathing and dressing him, carrying him to and from the car when the family went out. The daughters kept him company. The priest visited often.

The father died a year ago in May, in his bed, surrounded by family who loved him enough to have gone on caring for him indefinitely, who had not tired of him and his needs, who bore his sufferings with him, who found him even in his infirmity to be good company worth having for as long as he stayed. They still speak of the year he lived and died with them as the best year in their life together, and of the burden of his care as a blessing.”

Well that’s good for them, would go the expected reply, but what about those who have no “resources” like that. You can’t force people to be Christians. And this is true. As it is also true that as Christians we have been chosen to speak the Truth, no matter the cost. We who worship Jesus cannot live in falsehood, because He is the criterion by which true and false are discriminated, the light in which the difference between good and evil is seen. I’m struck many times by the blasé of the atheists who say that they could not reason their way to faith and so have chosen a life of “honest atheism.” And if I stopped them there and said, you realize of course that euthanasia is the logical outcome for anyone who is not living a life of Christian faith, hope, and love. I must confess also that is for the vast majority of the population on this planet — particularly if you count Christians who are failing their vocations in the Church.  

You realize, I would say to the Diabolist friends among us, that you are cutting off the one way you have of enduring suffering when earthly life can give you nothing more. The only thing that stands between you and being crushed by that suffering is the redemptive love of Our Lord. Undo that and everything comes cascading downward:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

 I think of the miserable story Thomas Merton tells of the death of his father:

“We went into the ward. Father was in his bed, to the left, just as you went in the door.

And when I saw him, I knew at once there was no hope of him living much longer His face was swollen. His eyes were not clear but, above all, the tumor had raised a tremendous swelling on his forehead.

I said: “How are you, Father?”

He looked at me and put forth his hand, in a confused and unhappy way, and I realized that he could no longer even speak. But at the same time, you could see that he knew us, and knew what was going on, and that his mind was clear, and that he understood everything.

But the sorrow of his great helplessness suddenly fell upon me like a mountain. I was crushed by it. The tears sprang to my eyes., Nobody said anything more.

I hid my face in the blanket and cried. And poor father wept, too. The others stood by. It was excruciatingly sad. We were completely helpless. There was nothing anyone could do…

What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal.

We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death. You just had to take it, like a dumb animal. Try to avoid it if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can’t avoid it any more. Take it.

Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won’t hurt so much. But you will always have to take some of it. And it will all devour you in the end.

Indeed the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.

The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being that is at once the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture.

This is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviscerate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves.”

This “raw wound” that much of the world bears like “a dumb animal” is the hell Christians speak of: lives spent without faith, lives lived upon whose only solution to suffering in old age or to disabled Veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan is euthanasia — a solution that Christians need to keep reminding our fellow citizens over and over again is an outrage, a scandal and a sin.

Ms Thomas writes: “That the old and ill should feel that they are alone with their demons, that those demons render their lives worthless, and that the only sensible, charitable thing to do is to take themselves and their demons as far out of everyone else’s way as possible is an utter disgrace. It is wrong, plainly and simply wrong, that a culture should arrange itself around such an assumption about the worthlessness of human life. If we fail to be scandalized by this state of affairs, then we run the risk of moral numbness.”

She further reminds us that “We are already surrounded by a culture of death, the easy transformation of any decent, law-abiding citizen into a murderer, a murderer’s willing accomplice. If you build it, they will come, goes the hokey-mystical mantra in the movie Field of Dreams. Similarly, if you legalize it, it will happen. Safe, legal, and rare. Isn’t that how the abortion chant goes?

In reality, as a culture, Americans have allowed abortion to become the standard medical treatment for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome and a host of other diseases. Ninety percent of such children are aborted: That’s how “heroic” our moral struggle has been. That’s how often a loving mother is persuaded that her only merciful option is to assent to the death of her child: a scandal, a disgrace, an outrage and a sin on all our part. We all take part in that tragedy, we are all “good Germans”, as the expression goes, or has it finally become “good Americans” now. It’s about time, one would think.

It’s a tragic fact of the human mind that, once it begins to entertain a proposition, however outrageous, the proposition becomes not a mere proposition but a sane and rational course of action.” Jim Towey in the Wall Street Journal wrote recently about the “Death Book for Veterans”. Bureaucrats at the VA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care advocated a 52-page end-of-life planning document, “Your Life, Your Choices.”

It was first published in 1997 and later promoted as the VA’s preferred living will throughout its vast network of hospitals and nursing homes. After the Bush White House took a look at how this document was treating complex health and moral issues, the VA suspended its use.

Unfortunately, under President Obama, the liberal secularists at the VA, those who mutter things about “Death With Dignity,” have now resuscitated “Your Life, Your Choices.” The document presents end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions, much like a political “push poll,” which for all intensive purposes was developed by the same class of people. For example, a worksheet lists various scenarios and asks users to then decide whether their own life would be “not worth living.” Nice.

The circumstances listed include ones common among the elderly and disabled: living in a nursing home or to returning Veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, being in a wheelchair and not being able to “shake the blues.” There is a section which provocatively asks, “Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘If I’m a vegetable, pull the plug’?” There also are guilt-inducing scenarios such as “I can no longer contribute to my family’s well being,” “I am a severe financial burden on my family” and that the vet’s situation “causes severe emotional burden for my family.”

No wonder that when Sarah Palin spoke of “Death Panels” she set off a firestorm. On one level the accusation appeared unfair. Yet on another, cognizant of our dismal record on upholding heroic moral virtue, breathes there a soul who didn’t know on some awful human level of awareness, the unspoken assumptions of “Obama Care?”  

Surely a grateful nation can do better by its fallen warriors or help its families with the burdens of looking after their elderly? Perhaps we could begin by simply acknowledging that we are only pretending to be doing the best we can.

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The Population of Hell — Avery Cardinal Dulles

September 28, 2009
These are reading selections from an article Cardinal Dulles wrote in First Things back in 2003. There were references to some controversies at the time which I have removed as they seemed too topical for my wants, but I’ve kept the overall survey aspect of the Church’s teachings on hell – it is an invaluable resource and timeless overview of the topic. Whether it be commenting on the New Testament or Paul or dealing with contemporary theologians writings on the topic, Cardinal Dulles presents his materials and interpretations with consummate skill. Reading him in this way always causes me continued pain at his absence, wondering what we have been missing.

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Jesus and Hell
As we know from the Gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell. Throughout his preaching, he holds forth two and only two final possibilities for human existence: the one being everlasting happiness in the presence of God, the other everlasting torment in the absence of God. He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus indicates that some will be condemned. The Son of man says to the goats: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In the Gospel of John, which says comparatively little about hell, Jesus is quoted as saying: “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

The apostles, understandably concerned, asked: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Without directly answering their question Jesus replied: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). In the parallel passage from Matthew, Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). In a parable immediately following this exchange, Jesus speaks of those who try to come to the marriage feast, but are told: “Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. There you will weep and gnash your teeth” (Luke 13:27-28). In another parable, that of the wedding guest who is cast out for not wearing the proper attire, Jesus declares: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Taken in their obvious meaning, passages such as these give the impression that there is a hell, and that many go there; more, in fact, than are saved.

Other New Testament References
The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated. Some of the Fathers place the name of Nero in the same select company, but they do not give long lists of names, as Dante would do.

References to punishment after death in the remainder of the New Testament simply confirm the teaching of the Gospels. In the Book of Acts Paul says that those ordained to eternal life have believed his preaching, whereas those who disbelieved it have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46-48). Peter’s First Letter puts the question: “If the righteous man is scarcely to be saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). The Book of Revelation teaches that there is a fiery pit where Satan and those who follow him will be tormented forever. It states at one point: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

St. Paul and Hell
The testimony of Paul is complex. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians he speaks of the coming divine judgment, in which Jesus will inflict vengeance “upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In his epistle to the Romans Paul says that the impenitent Jews are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). In writing to the Corinthians he distinguishes between those who are being saved by the gospel and those who are perishing because of their failure to accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18). In a variety of texts he gives lists of sins that will exclude people from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-6). And he tells the Philippians: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Some passages in the letters of Paul lend themselves to a more optimistic interpretation, but they can hardly be used to prove that salvation is universal. In Romans 8:19-21 Paul predicts that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” but the text seems to refer to the world of nature; it does not say that all human beings will achieve the glorious liberty in question. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 Paul speaks of all things being ultimately subjected to Christ, but he does not imply that subjection means salvation. He presumably means that the demonic powers will ultimately be defeated. In Philippians 2:9-10 he predicts that eventually every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue confess him. But this need not mean a confession that proceeds from love. In the Gospels the devils proclaim that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but they are not saved by recognizing the fact.

Equally unavailing, in my opinion, are appeals to passages that say that God’s plan is to reconcile all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:19-20). Although this is surely God’s intent, He does not override the freedom that enables men and women to resist His holy will. The same may be said of the statement that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Paul is apparently seeking to stimulate the apostolic zeal of missionaries who will bring the saving truth of Christ to all who do not yet believe. The absolute necessity of faith for salvation is a constant theme in the writings of Paul. I see no reason, then, for ranking Paul among the universalists.

The Teaching of the Church
The constant teaching of the Catholic Church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned. Three general councils of the Church (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Florence, 1439) and Pope Benedict XII’s bull Benedictus Deus (1336) have taught that everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes immediately to suffer the eternal punishments of hell. This belief has perdured without question in the Catholic Church to this day, and is repeated almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC §1022, 1035). Several local councils in the Middle Ages, without apparently intending to define the point, state in passing that some have actually died in a state of sin and been punished by eternal damnation.

The Early Church Fathers
The relative numbers of the elect and the damned are not treated in any Church documents, but have been a subject of discussion among theologians. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

St. Augustine and St. Thomas
Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost. In Book 21 of his City of God he rebuts first the idea that all human beings are saved, then that all the baptized are saved, then that all baptized Catholics are saved, and finally that all baptized Catholics who persevere in the faith are saved. He seems to limit salvation to baptized believers who refrain from serious sin or who, after sinning, repent and are reconciled with God.

The great Scholastics of the Middle Ages are not more sanguine. Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small. Since our human nature is fallen, and since eternal blessedness is a gift far beyond the powers and merits of every created nature, it is to be expected that most human beings fall short of achieving that goal.

The Population of Hell
The leading theologians of the baroque period follow suit. Francisco Suarez, in his treatise on predestination, puts the question squarely: How many are saved? Relying on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gregory, he proposes the following estimation. If the question is asked about all men living between the creation and the end of the world, the number of the reprobate certainly exceeds that of the elect. This is to be expected because God was not rightly known before the coming of Christ, and even since that time many remain in darkness. If the term “Christian” is taken to include heretics, schismatics, and baptized apostates, it would still appear that most are damned. But if the question is put about those who die in the Catholic Church, Suarez submits his opinion that the majority are saved, since many die before they can sin mortally, and many others are fortified by the sacraments.

Suarez is relatively optimistic in comparison with other Catholic theologians of his day. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, for example, were convinced that most of the human race is lost.

Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell. Even if this consensus be granted, however, it is not binding, because the theologians did not claim that their opinion was revealed, or that to take the opposite view was heretical. Nor is the opinion that most people attain salvation contradicted by authoritative Church teaching.

Mention should here be made of a minority opinion among some of the Greek Fathers. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved. Origen, the most prominent representative of this view, is generally reported as teaching that at the end of time, the damned, now repentant and purified, will take part in the universal restoration of all things (apokatastasis). Three centuries after Origen’s death his views on this and several other topics were condemned by a local council of Constantinople convened by the Emperor Justinian in a.d. 563. Even in his lifetime, however, Origen claimed that his adversaries had misunderstood or misrepresented him. A number of distinguished scholars down through the centuries have defended his orthodoxy on the fate of the damned. The doctrine of the eternity of hell has been firmly in place at least since the seventh century, and is not subject to debate in the Catholic Church.

A Modern Break With Tradition: Maritain and Rahner
About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation. Some examples may be illustrative.

In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. The discourses of Jesus on the subject appear to be admonitory rather than predictive. Their aim is to persuade his hearers to pursue the better and safer path by alerting them to the danger of eternal perdition. While allowing for the real possibility of eternal damnation, says Rahner, we must simultaneously maintain “the truth of the omnipotence of the universal salvific will of God, the redemption of all by Christ, the duty of men to hope for salvation.” Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

Hans Urs von Balthasar
The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand.

At one point in his book Balthasar incorporates a long quotation from Edith Stein, now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who defends a position very like Balthasar’s. Since God’s all-merciful love, she says, descends upon everyone, it is probable that this love produces transforming effects in their lives. To the extent that people open themselves to that love, they enter into the realm of redemption. On this ground Stein finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.

This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in Scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive. Balthasar’s position, moreover, does not undermine a healthy fear of being lost. But the position is at least adventurous. It runs against the obvious interpretation of the words of Jesus in the New Testament and against the dominant theological opinion down through the centuries, which maintains that some, and in fact very many, are lost.

The conviction of earlier theologians that relatively few are saved rests, I suspect, partly on the assumption that faith in Christ, baptism, and adherence to the Church are necessary conditions for salvation. The first two of these conditions are clearly set forth in the New Testament, and the third has been taught by many saints, councils, popes, and theologians. But these conditions can be interpreted more broadly than one might suspect. In recent centuries it has become common to speak of implicit faith, baptism “by desire,” and membership in the “soul” of the Church, or membership in voto (“by desire”). Vatican II declares that all people, even those who have never heard of Christ, receive enough grace to make their salvation possible….

It is unfair and incorrect to accuse either Balthasar or Richard John Neuhaus (who wrote an article supporting  Balthasar in 2002) of teaching that no one goes to hell. They grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there, but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved. The fact that something is highly improbable need not prevent us from hoping and praying that it will happen. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4)” (CCC §1821). At another point the Catechism declares: “The Church prays that no one should be lost” (CCC §1058).

Pius IX And John Paul II
The Church continues to insist that explicit faith, reception of the sacraments, and obedience to the Church are the ordinary means to salvation. Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) accordingly condemned the proposition: “We should at least have good hopes for the eternal salvation of those who are in no way in the true Church of Christ.” Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis, 1943) taught that even those who are united to the Church by bonds of implicit desire-a state that can by no means be taken for granted-still lack many precious means that are available in the Church and therefore “cannot be sure of their salvation.” Vatican II said that anyone who knows that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ and refuses to enter her cannot be saved. If we accept these teachings, we will find it unlikely that everyone fulfills the conditions for salvation.

Pope John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope mentions the theory of Balthasar. After putting the question whether a loving God can allow any human being to be condemned to eternal torment, he replies: “And yet the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matthew 25:46).” As justification for this assessment the Pope puts the rhetorical question: Can God, who is ultimate justice, tolerate terrible crimes and let them go unpunished? Final punishment would seem to be necessary to reestablish the moral equilibrium in the complex history of humanity.

In a General Audience talk of July 28, 1999, the Pope seems to have shifted his position, adopting in effect that of Balthasar. According to the English version of the text he said:

Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no,” which marks the (human) creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell-and even less the improper use of biblical images-must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)

The last sentence refers to the hope of Christians for their own salvation and cannot be used to support any theory of universal salvation. But the preceding sentence indicates at least an openness to the opinion that we may hope for the salvation of all.

A Shift in Catholic Theology?
One might ask at this point whether there has been any shift in Catholic theology on the matter. The answer appears to be Yes, although the shift is not as dramatic as some imagine. The earlier pessimism was based on the unwarranted assumption that explicit Christian faith is absolutely necessary for salvation. This assumption has been corrected, particularly at Vatican II. There has also been a healthy reaction against the type of preaching that revels in depicting the sufferings of the damned in the most lurid possible light. An example would be the fictional sermon on hell that James Joyce recounts in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This kind of preaching fosters an image of God as an unloving and cruel tyrant, and in some cases leads to a complete denial of hell or even to atheism.

Today a kind of thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error. Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved. The Mass for the Dead has turned into a Mass of the Resurrection, which sometimes seems to celebrate not so much the resurrection of the Lord as the salvation of the deceased, without any reference to sin and punishment. More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in hell (cf. Matthew 10:28).

The Demography Of Hell
The search for numbers in the demography of hell is futile. God in His wisdom has seen fit not to disclose any statistics. Several sayings of Jesus in the Gospels give the impression that the majority are lost. Paul, without denying the likelihood that some sinners will die without sufficient repentance, teaches that the grace of Christ is more powerful than sin: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Passages such as these permit us to hope that very many, if not all, will be saved.

All told, it is good that God has left us without exact information. If we knew that virtually everybody would be damned, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that all, or nearly all, are saved, we might become presumptuous. If we knew that some fixed percent, say fifty, would be saved, we would be caught in an unholy rivalry. We would rejoice in every sign that others were among the lost, since our own chances of election would thereby be increased. Such a competitive spirit would hardly be compatible with the gospel.

We are forbidden to seek our own salvation in a selfish and egotistical way. We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. The more we work for their salvation, the more of God’s favor we can expect for ourselves. Those of us who believe and make use of the means that God has provided for the forgiveness of sins and the reform of life have no reason to fear. We can be sure that Christ, who died on the Cross for us, will not fail to give us the grace we need. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that if we persevere in that love, nothing whatever can separate us from Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-39). That is all the assurance we can have, and it should be enough.

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And finally Fr. Barron gives us another overview on the topic:

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Nine Things I Have Realized About My Nature and the World

September 25, 2009

The other day a fellow made a list of all the things that would be necessary (for him) to believe in the Resurrection. It so happened that day I had posted a favorite quote of mine from Michael Novak: “Gathering force over many years, one discovery has hit me with the force of a law: If you make mistakes about your own nature, you will make as many mistakes about God, and quite properly then, reject what your inquiries put before you. The god you fantasize will appear to you not very great, a delusion, a snare from which others ought to be freed. You will despise this god.”

I saw in his “list” a recitation of all the things most important in this person’s nature: chief amongst them a highly analytical nature, a no-nonsense approach to life, a refusal to engage in any metaphysical thought, etc. etc… I thought that I would reply in kind just to contrast what a believer’s nature looks like. It is, of course an incomplete list – most of it has at one time or another been the subject of a post on Paying Attention To The Sky:

 (1)   I have been loved into existence. My life has been a gift from God and I believe I have lived it under His most profound providence and generosity. Michael Novak writes: “Our intellects, our will — these can reach out to God, like arrows of inquiry shot up into the infinite night. These are not shot in vain. They mark out a direction. Waiting in silence, in abandonment, even in the dry sands of the desert, one comes to know His presence. Not believe in it. Know it. In a 1959 interview with the BBC, C. G. Jung once made the same point. Asked whether he believed in God, Jung replied, “I don’t believe — I know.” This is a dark knowledge. One cannot expect anyone else to know it, unless they have also walked the rocky and darkling path — or somehow by God’s grace been brought to it by a different journey, along a different route.” This is how I “know” things about God. I’m afraid it is of little use to anyone else. I can offer no one a scientific proof of God but can provide a number of paths to Him.

(2)   No matter how I struggle or wish it to be different, I know exactly what St. Paul meant when he wrote: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” I know at some deepest level of self-awareness that I am a sinner.

(3)   I believe in Dostoevsky’s creed: “One sees the truth more clearly when one is unhappy,” he wrote from Siberia. “And yet God gives me moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple, here it is: “I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Savior: I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one.”

(4)   “The creative action of a Christian’s life is to prepare for his death in Christ.” Flannery O’Connor wrote that. I wish I knew what that will mean for me. I’m hoping to make it something wonderful.

(5)   Josef Pieper emphasizes the close connection between moral and intellectual virtue. Our minds do not — contrary to many views currently popular — create truth. Rather, they must be conformed to the truth of things given in creation. And such conformity (obedience) is possible only as the moral virtues become deeply embedded in our character, a slow and halting process (especially in my case). We have, Pieper writes, “lost the awareness of the close bond that links the knowing of truth to the condition of purity.” That is, in order to know the truth we must become persons of a certain sort. The full transformation of character that we need will, in fact, finally require the virtues of faith, hope, and love. And this transformation will not necessarily — perhaps not often — be experienced by us as easy or painless. Hence the transformation of self that we must — by God’s grace — undergo “perhaps resembles passing through something akin to dying.” This is training in the divine school of obedience.  

(6)   A Half Dozen Things that Blaise Pascal taught me:

  • We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness…Pensées 401
    Since no one can change human nature, no one can make us stop desiring truth and happiness; and no mere human being can gives us truth or happiness. We can mediate these two things (and get them in crumbs and droplets while wishing for great loaves and waves), but we cannot create them; we are aqueducts not fountains. (C.S. Lewis: “Human beings can’t make each other happy for very long.”)
  • Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms and crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.
    Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time, which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well: that is the basic principle of morality…  Pensées 200
    Man is unstable. His nature is double (body and spirit), his consciousness is double (exalted and wretched) and his potentiality is double (heaven or hell). In all three ways he is unlike all the things in nature, which rest stably within their nature. Roses can no more be unrosy than a triangle scan be nontriangular; but humans can be inhuman…man’s essence does not determine his existence but his existence determines his essence. We determine our nature, our character, our personality, by the free choices in our existence our life, our career in time, our history. Everything in nature has its life and history determined by its timeless pattern, plan or essence; with us it is the reverse. This formula – existence determines essence – is Sartre’s and the Christian will not buy into everything Sartre means by it (for instance, that we have no essence at all because there is no God to design it) but in itself it is true and profound.
  • Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched: a tree does not know it is wretched. Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is greatness in knowing one is wretched…Pensées 114
    Thus the greatness and high dignity of Greek drama. It is not only that the wise sufferer is rewarded in the end, like Oedipus (and Job), but that even in the act of suffering well there is dignity, because the suffering is not just a negative event in the physical world but also a positive event in the spiritual world, by the sufferer’s understanding and will, his suffering is granted entrance into this second world. It becomes not merely an event in space but an event in consciousness. It is taken up to Heaven. This is part of is training in the divine school of obedience.
  • If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightening and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. ‘There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”
     Pensées 149
  • We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are to and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.
    Let us each examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.
     Pensées 47 [Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”] I wish I had learned that years ago.
  • Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Be humble impotent reason! Be silent feeble nature! Learn that man infinitely transcends man, hear from your master our true condition, which is unknown to you. Listen to God… Pensées 131
    Our reason and our nature contradict each other. Our reason insists on doubt, our nature insists on certainty. Our reason is a skeptic, our nature is a dogmatist. Our reason insists on assuming nothing, or nature insists on assuming innate principles. The point of the lesson now follows: Both nature and reason must learn faith, silence, humility, listening to God. Without this there is no fulfillment of our reason or our nature, and no solution to the dilemma between them….Only Christian “abnormalism”, only the Fall, explains these two primal truths: we are unhappy and ignorant, and that we long to be happy and certain. We cannot stop demanding our two foods, happiness and certainty. Nor can we ever attain them. They are the only two innate desires that are never satisfied, the only hungers for foods not found here on earth and in time….Aquinas declared all his writings mere “straw” and would not finish the Summa – not out of laziness but in light of God’s face seen in a graced mystical vision. Job, too, put his finger to his lips when he saw God [Job 42:1-6]. This is the chief use of reasoning, questioning and genius: that we may have something to quiet. The chief use of philosophy is to have something to immolate on the altar. The ultimate purpose of speech is to frame the great mystical silence.
    Philosophy is after, the love of wisdom and wisdom is alive like a woman. So how could we think our courtship of her is a one-way activity? This is true only for the pursuit of things and abstract ideas, but never for persons, not even human persons, and much less the Divine Person who is Wisdom [1Corinthians 1:30]

(7)   Enormous Things Depend On Tiny Things: Nothing in the world has such tiny and invisible causes, and such great and visible effects, as human love….enormous things depend on tiny things. “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a battle was lost; for want of a battle, a war was lost; for want of a war, a kingdom was lost.” This is the nature of the world’s data. Anyone who cooks knows this to be true.
As Thornton Wilder says, in the Bridge Of San Luis Rey, “Some say that to the gods we are like flies idly swatted by boys on a summer day. Others say that not a hair falls from our head without the will of the Heavenly Father.”

(8)   No one can truly understand a book, Proust has said, unless he has already been able to ‘allow the equivalents to ripen slowly in his own heart.’ This profoundly human truth is what Augustine will always tell his readers: they must look into the Scriptures, ‘the eyes of their heart on its heart’. …let the scriptures be ‘the countenance of God’…a mind that once hoped to train itself for the vision of God by means of the Liberal Arts, would now come to rest on the solid intractable mass of the Christian Bible…‘Complete your work in me O Lord and open those pages to me‘… Seek His Face Evermore …Therefore let everyone who reads these pages proceed further with me, when he is equally certain as I am; let him make enquiries with me when he is as hesitant as I…Thus let us enter together, in the path of charity, in search of Him of Whom it is said: seek his face evermore.” With friends like Augustine, I can never go wrong.

(9)   Thomas Merton on the death of his father: “We went into the ward. Father was in his bed, to the left, just as you went in the door.
And when I saw him, I knew at once there was no hope of him living much longer His face was swollen. His eyes were not clear but, above all, the tumor had raised a tremendous swelling on his forehead.
I said: “How are you, Father?”
He looked at me and put forth his hand, in a confused and unhappy way, and I realized that he could no longer even speak. But at the same time, you could see that he knew us, and knew what was going on, and that his mind was clear, and that he understood everything.
But the sorrow of his great helplessness suddenly fell upon me like a mountain. I was crushed by it. The tears sprang to my eyes., Nobody said anything more.
I hid my face in the blanket and cried. And poor father wept, too. The others stood by. It was excruciatingly sad. We were completely helpless. There was nothing anyone could do…
What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal. We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death. You just had to take it, like a dumb animal. Try to avoid it if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can’t avoid it any more. Take it. Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won’t hurt so much. But you will always have to take some of it. And it will all devour you in the end.
Indeed the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt., The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being that is at once the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture. This is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviscerate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves.”

This is what my life was like before faith. Diabolists live lives of dumb animals. I say that with no sense of condescension or enjoyment. It is a simple fact of my observations of having lived this long.

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But Love Does Such Things!

September 24, 2009

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1: 1-14

One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible and of all literature. It stirs the soul, awakens us to fully read the Psalmist that we are indeed “little less than the gods,” (Psalm 8:2-8) puts it:

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

And yet we must never forget those who walk amongst us, the diabolists, who are hostile to these thoughts. I never forget Michael Novak’s cautioning words: “Gathering force over many years, one discovery has hit me with the force of a law: If you make mistakes about your own nature, you will make as many mistakes about God, and quite properly then, reject what your inquiries put before you. The god you fantasize will appear to you not very great, a delusion, a snare from which others ought to be freed. You will despise this god.” I have never read anything truer.

We, however, have Fr. Romano Guardini, who touches us with these reflections on the incarnation and his epiphany, provoked by a friend, “But Love does such things!”  “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee… “

Origin And Ancestry: John’s View
John probes the mystery of God’s existence for Jesus’ origin. Revelation shows that the merely unitarian God found in post-Christian Judaism, in Islam, and throughout the modern consciousness does not exist. At the heart of the mystery which the church expresses in her teaching of the trinity of persons in the unity of life stands the God of Revelation. Here, John seeks the roots of Christ’s existence: in the second of the Most Holy Persons, the Word (Logos), in whom God the speaker, reveals the fullness of his being. Speaker and Spoken, however, incline toward each other and are one in the love of the Holy Spirit. The Second Countenance of God, here called Word, is also named Son, since he who speaks the Word is also known as Father. In the Lord’s farewell address, the Holy Spirit is given the promising names of Consoler, Sustainer, for he will see to it that the brothers and sisters in Christ are not left orphans by his death. Through the Holy Spirit the Redeemer came to us, straight from the heart of the Heavenly Father.

“Son of God became man” — not only descended to inhabit a human frame, but became man — literally; and in order that no doubt arise, (that, for example, it might never be asserted that Christ, despising the lowliness of the body, had united himself with only the essence of a holy soul or with an exalted spirit)

John specifies sharply: Christ “was made in flesh.” Only in flesh, not in the bare spirit, can destiny and history come into being. God descended to us in the person of the Savior, Redeemer, in order to have a destiny, to become history. Through the Incarnation, the founder of the new history stepped into our midst. With his coming, all that had been before fell into its historical place “before the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” anticipating or preparing for that hour; all that was to be, faced the fundamental choice between acceptance and rejection of the Incarnation.

He “dwelt among us,” “pitched his tent among us,” as one translation words it. “Tent” of the logos — what is this but Christ’s body: God’s holy pavilion among men, the original tabernacle of the Lord in our Midst, the “temple” Jesus meant when he said to the Pharisees: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Somewhere in that eternal beginning and temporal life in the flesh lies the mystery of the Incarnation. St John presents it austerely, swinging its full metaphysical weight. Nothing here of the wealth of lovely characterization and intimate detail that make St Luke’s account bloom so richly. Everything is concentrated on the ultimate , all-powerful essential. Logos, flesh, step into the world; the eternal origin, the tangible earthly reality, the mystery of unity.

Revelation’s account of the Incarnation and the relation of God to the world is something fundamentally different (from human conceptions of God‘s existence). According to the Bible, God entered into time in a specific manner, acting on an autocratic decision made in complete freedom. The free, eternal God has no destiny which is a matter for mortals living in history. What is meant is that God entered into history, thus taking destiny upon himself.

However this journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp. The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous, human aspect of this interpretation with its own ‘purer’ idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies hidden the kernel of Christianity. Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason. He said: “But love does such things!” Again and again these words have come to the rescue when the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse. Not that they explain anything to the intelligence; they arouse the heart, enabling it to feel its way into the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer, and the danger of “scandal” disappears.

None of the great things in human life springs from the intellect; every one issues from the heart and its love. If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer must this be of God’s love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly.

Towards Accepting the Incarnation: Jesus’ Self Realization
What we have just attempted to grasp in of the obscurity of divine action now presents itself to us in visible form (the journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory or into history) At first a child like any other, it cries, is hungry, sleeps, and yet “the Word…become flesh.” It cannot be said that God “inhabits” this infant, however gloriously; or that heaven has set its seal upon him, so that he must pursue it, suffer for it in a manner sublimely excelling all other contacts between God and man; this child is God in essence and in being.

If an inner protest should arise here, give it room. It is not good to suppress anything; if we try to , it only goes underground, becomes toxic, and reappears later in far more obnoxious form. Does anyone object to the whole idea of God-become-man? Is he willing to accept the Incarnation only as a profound and beautiful allegory, never as literal truth? If doubt can establish a foothold anywhere in our faith, it is here. Then we must be patient and reverent, approaching this central mystery of Christianity with calm, expectant, prayerful attention; one day its sense will be revealed to us. In the meantime let us remember the directive “But love does such things!”

The tenor of infant’s destiny is now fixed. What one is by birth determines the general theme of the life to follow; everything else is necessarily supplementary. Incident and environment are certainly influential — they sustain and burden, promote and destroy, effect and form. Nevertheless, it is the first step into existence with its heritage of blood and spirit that is decisive. Christian thinkers have spent much time and thought probing Jesus’ inner life, now from the psychological, now from the theological side, in an effort to discover what must have taken place there. But all psychology of Jesus shatters on the rock of what, essential, he is.

An analysis of Christ might be valid for the periphery or outmost surface of his being, but any significance or image it manages to construct is almost immediately consumed by the power of the center. As for theological analysis, however true in itself and fundamentally important to Christian thought, it is necessarily abstract. Hence, in order to advance at all in our faith, we are bound to call some concrete train of thought to our assistance. Let us try this one:

The young creature in the stall of Bethlehem was a human being with human brain and limbs and heart and soul. And it was God. Its life was to manifest the will of the Father: to proclaim the sacred tidings, to stir mankind with the power of God, to establish the Covenant, and shoulder the sin of the world, expiating it with love and leading mankind through the destruction of sacrifice and the victory of the Resurrection into the new existence of grace. In this accomplishment alone lay Jesus’ self-perfection: fulfillment of mission and personal fulfillment were one. The Resurrected himself points this out: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).

It was as if Jesus’ self realization meant that his human being “took possession” of the divine being he had always intrinsically been. Jesus did not experience God; he was God. He never at any moment “became” God; he was God from the start. His life was the process by which this innate divinity came into its own. His task was to place divine reality and power squarely in the realm of his human consciousness and will; to reflect holy purity in his relation to all things, and to contain infinite love and divinity’s boundless plenitude in his heart of flesh and blood.

The Lord’s life might also be called a continuous penetration, infiltration of self, a hoisting of his being to ever higher levels of self-containment. For him self-conquest is seizure of his own superabundance. All external speech, struggle, action is simultaneously an unbroken advance of the man Jesus Christ into his own divinity. The thought is certainly inadequate. It does not pretend to be perfect theological argument but only a stimulus when we reflect on the frail child in the crib and all that stirs behind its small forehead.
Fr. Romano Guardini, “The Lord”

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The Resurrection

September 23, 2009
The Resurrection of Christ and the Women at the Tomb; Fra ANGELICO; 1440-41 fresco; convento di San Marco, Florence

The Resurrection of Christ and the Women at the Tomb; Fra ANGELICO; 1440-41 fresco; convento di San Marco, Florence

While faith in such things as the Resurrection springs from the relationship the believer has with the living Jesus, there are a number of facts that derive from the nature of the historical event that is reported in the Gospels. This event and the nature of the facts that are presented also point to truth as well, simply because many are facts

  1. that would be considered embarrassing to the Christian case
  2. that are never used to embellish the reputations of the original apostles
  3. that are never put in the mouths of gospel character to resolve post Easter church disputes
  4. that show a fidelity to a detail that displays careful historical work

Many of these points are affirmed by Lee Strobel in his Case for Christ:

The Gospels’ Theological Agenda
In the ancient world the idea of writing dispassionate, objective history merely to chronicle events, with no ideological purpose, was unheard of. Nobody wrote history if there wasn’t a reason to learn from it. As with any ideological document, there are people who distort history to serve their ideological ends. But it is a mistake to think that that always happens. A modern parallel from the experience of the Jewish community clarifies this. Some people, usually for anti-Semitic purposes, deny or downplay the horrors of the Holocaust. But it has been the Jewish scholars who’ve created museums, written books, preserved artifacts and documented eyewitness testimony concerning the Holocaust. Now, they have a very ideological purpose – namely to ensure that such an atrocity never occurs again – but they have also been the most faithful and objective in their reporting of historical truth. Christianity was likewise based on certain historical claims that God uniquely entered into space and time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so the very ideology that Christians were trying to promote required as careful historical work as possible.

The Intentions Of The Gospels
Luke states a clear intention at the beginning of his gospel to write accurately about the things he investigated and found to be well supported by witnesses. While Mark and Matthew don’t have the explicit kind of statement that Luke does, they are close in terms of genre and it seem reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs. John contains a statement of purpose n 20:31. Consider also the way that the gospels are written – in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in a lot of other ancient writings…. Further, after Jesus’ ascension there were a number of controversies that threatened the early church – should believers be circumcised, how should speaking in tongues be regulated, how to keep Jew and Gentile united, what are the appropriate roles for women in ministry, whether believers could divorce non-Christian spouses. These issues could have been conveniently resolved if the early Christians had simply read back into the gospels what Jesus had told them from the world beyond. But his never happened. The continuance of these controversies demonstrates that Christians were interested in distinguishing between what happened during Jesus’ lifetime and what was debated later in the churches.

The Discoverers Of The Empty Tomb
When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discoverers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine, There are old rabbinical sayings that said, ‘Let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered to women’ and ‘Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.’ Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law. In light of this it is absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women who were friends of Jesus. Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb – Peter or John for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that – like it or not – they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that he gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. This bespeaks the historicity of this tradition rather than its legendary status.

The Empty Tomb As Historical Fact
The empty tomb is implicit in the early tradition that is passed along by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, which is a very old and reliable source of historical information about Jesus.  Christian and Jew alike knew the site of Jesus’ tomb. So if it weren’t empty, it would have been impossible for a movement founded on belief in the Resurrection to have come into existence in the same city where this man had been publicly executed and buried. We can tell from the language, grammar, and style that Mark got his empty tomb story from an earlier source. There’s evidence that it was written before A.D.37, which is much too early for legend to have seriously corrupted it. It would have been unprecedented anywhere in history for legend to have grown up that fast and significantly distorted the gospels. Mark’s account of the story of the empty tomb is stark in its simplicity and unadorned by theological reflection. The unanimous testimony that the empty tomb was discovered by women argues for the authenticity of the story, because this would have been embarrassing for the disciples to admit and most certainly would have been covered up if this were a legend.

And how to explain the  innumerable graphic little details, names, numbers, times that cluster about each gospel; here are some, for example,  listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Mark:

(1)  how Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up (i, 31), how with anger He looked round about on His critics (iii, 5), how He took little children into His arms and blessed them and laid His hands upon them (ix, 35; x, 16), how those who carried the paralytic uncovered the roof (ii, 3, 4), how Christ commanded that the multitude should sit down upon the green grass, and how they sat down in companies, in hundred and in fifties (vi, 39-40);

(2)  how James and John left their father in the boat with the hired servants (i, 20), how they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John (i, 29), how the blind man at Jericho was the son of Timeus (x, 46), how Simon of Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus (xv, 21);

(3)  how there was no room even about the door of the house where Jesus was (ii, 2), how Jesus sat in the sea and all the multitude was by the sea on the land (iv, 1), how Jesus was in the stern of the boat asleep on the pillow (iv, 38);

(4) how on the evening of the Sabbath, when the sun had set, the sick were brought to be cured (i, 32), how in the morning, long before day, Christ rose up (i, 35), how He was crucified at the third hour (xv, 25), how the women came to the tomb very early, when the sun had risen (xvi, 2);

(5)  how the paralytic was carried by four (ii, 3), how the swine were about two thousand in number (v. 13), how Christ began to send forth the Apostles, two and two (vi, 7).

Peter Kreeft has written:  “Some of the tenets of Christian faith (for example, the Trinity) cannot be discovered, adequately understood, or proved by human reason, but are “mysterious and supernatural”; others, like monotheism, can; and all of them at least do not “offend the principles of reason (Aquinas). Not all of Christianity can be proved, but some of it can, and none of it can be disproved. If it could, faith would be absurd and ridiculous.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was asked by reporters in the 1960s for his reaction to the fact that some intellectuals thought God was dead. The president replied, “That’s odd; I was just speaking to him this morning.” Richard Dawkins goes the former President one better; saying in a recent Wall Street Journal piece that “God was never alive in the first place.” Many of us will cast our lots with the Psalmist who wrote “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”

Many moderns opt for God, but their God is no more than a mythic evolutionary journey on a road less traveled that we make up as we go along. No “unsustainable certainty” of faith for them. Presumably they are OK with the “story” of the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, if (making no pretentions to historical accuracy) it gives one the needed psychological boost to cope with human grief and helps one find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles.

St. Paul would beg to disagree. He summarizes the Christian explanation of the Resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-14:

“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Mark Shea has summarized some of the modern alternatives for us: “Then again, there are others who solve the problem of the Resurrection by not letting Jesus die. In this view, somebody else was crucified on Good Friday (somebody who really deserved it, like Judas Iscariot), while Jesus went off to a well-earned pension someplace else. Depending on which legend or Shocking Book (e.g., Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent) you choose, “someplace else” could be anywhere from Japan to France. Frequently, “Jesus didn’t die” scenarios go for the hearts-and-flowers conclusion favored by Hollywood, in which the retired Son of Man finally gets the girl, like Clark Kent in Superman II, and no longer has to pursue His unrewarding task of proclaiming platitudes.

Typically, they pack Him off to some vineyard with Mary Magdalene, there to found a dynasty of Merovingians or something. Instead of having Him escape crucifixion entirely, some scenarios grant that He was crucified but insist that He only swooned (possibly with the help of some drugged wine) and regained consciousness later. But the central claim of all such scenarios is that Jesus didn’t really die on the Cross.

Still other theorists, often involved in the New Age movement, solve the problem by allowing Him to be only a spirit (divine or angelic, depending on the preference of the author) appearing as a man, a sort of holy vision. This solves the problem of His death by making it an illusion: a tidy disposal of a messy crucifixion that preserves the happy ending.

Meanwhile, others have much simpler and cruder explanations: Disciples stole the corpse, lied about it, and founded a cult for their own selfish gain and power. Slightly kinder than this is the Hysterical Hallucination Theory, which says the well-meaning apostles hallucinated the Resurrection. Others say it was a later generation of Christians who added the Resurrection to the New Testament. Originally, it was just a collection of apostolic memoirs about the Dead Master and His witty sayings. Many think St. Paul is behind the whole thing (see, for instance, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby).

Under the influence of pagan myth, St. Paul allegedly transformed this ordinary Jewish rabbi into a Cosmic Christ figure. The original apostles, according to this school, would be horrified at what Paul did to the teaching of the gentle and witty Y’shua….

The mention of the tomb leads some people to another favorite theory: namely, that the disciples went to the wrong tomb and leapt to the conclusion that Christ was risen. One can only wonder what such theorists think people are made of. For the apostles to conclude that Jesus was the risen and glorious Lord of all on the basis of such a blunder would have required preternatural stupidity not only on their part but on the part of the Jerusalem authorities.

Even if all the early Church was too obtuse to find its way back to the final resting place of the Man who was the focus of their devotion, surely somebody in the Jerusalem elite who opposed the growing sect of Nazarenes could have said, “Uh, guys? Here’s the corpse. You were looking in the wrong place. Next time ask for directions.” Joseph of Arimathea might have been of some help here. So might the women, who saw where He was laid. And such a theory becomes doubly silly when the early Church’s fascination with relics and tombs is factored in. Early liturgies tended to be held at grave sites, yet there is no cult that develops around the most important grave of all. Why, it’s as if the tomb had been empty or something.

Which takes us, in our taxonomy of Resurrection alternatives, to the various escape-from-death/swoon theories: the notion that Jesus somehow avoided death, either by skipping town and leaving a stooge to take the fall for Him or by enduring crucifixion and then escaping the tomb. It’s hard to say which version of this theory is more preposterous. If there’s a fact of history that’s not disputed even by hard-core atheist historians, it is the fact of His death. If we know nothing else about Him, we know that He died by crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem circa 30 A.D.

And yet some insist that He didn’t. Like a sort of first-century Elvis, He went into sudden and mysterious retirement, in sharp contradiction to everything He had ever said or done, and founded a dynasty or studied philosophy or something in some far-off land. What is the evidence for this? Well, there is none really, just hints, supposings, surmises, and what-ifs. It’s rather like the thinking behind Chariots of the Gods. It’s a case of a theory in search of evidence, not of evidence giving rise to a theory. Meanwhile, the people who were there give testimony, not that Jesus left town right after the Last Supper (a supper at which He specifically prophesied His Passion with a strange accuracy that would reduce Peter to tears when it all happened), but that He went to betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. And again, why would lying cult founders make up the story of that prophecy and its very embarrassing fulfillment? Indeed, eyewitnesses like John saw Jesus at both His trial and crucifixion. So there aren’t many ways for Jesus to have skipped town and left somebody else holding the bag.

Ah! But John only thought he saw Jesus die. Really, the Nazarene received a drugged wine, passed out, and awoke in a freezing-cold tomb on a chilly morning in April. The perfect setting for a dramatic recovery from scourging, crucifixion, massive blood loss, shock, and a spear wound to the heart, as nine out of ten doctors agree. He then stumbled out (after somehow freeing Himself from the bandages sealed to His torn flesh) and, shoving the zillion-ton stone that sealed the tomb out of the way, limped up to the disciples on His bloody feet, showed them His hands (complete with permanently immovable thumbs due to irreparable nerve damage), and gasped out a greeting between the stabs of agonizing pain from the spear wound. Most people, faced with such a ghastly spectacle, would dial 911. The disciples, naturally, greeted Him as the glorious Conqueror of Death and Lord of the Universe and founded a religion instead.

“Okay, fine,” the diehard skeptic says, “Jesus died. And the disciples didn’t steal the body and lie about it. They just hallucinated. Together. All 500 of them. For 40 days. No, really…”

Even if we put aside that troublesome matter of the empty tomb (with empty grave clothes in it), there’s still a problem concerning the nature of hallucinations. Mass hallucination is extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that it’s usually only invoked to explain away things like, oh, the Resurrection. The rest of the time, when 500 people say they saw somebody and spoke with him, we believe them, particularly when they have nothing to gain by saying it – when they are routinely put to death for saying it.

And we have other problems to deal with if we want to entertain the Mass Hallucination Theory. First and foremost is the curious fact that hallucinations like this are supposed to be the fruition of intense wish-fulfillment fantasies. The witnesses supposedly wanted Jesus to be alive so bad that they freaked out and thought they saw Him. On at least three occasions, however, His disciples failed to recognize Him when they did meet Him. We are told they were so desperate to see Him that they might have tricked themselves into believing they had seen Him, but they walked for half a day with Him and did not notice. Strange. More to the point, what hallucination can be touched and eats fish?

Which leaves us pretty much with the Jesus-was-a-divine-illusion school of Gnostic or New Age thinking. But if the Risen Christ was really a purely spiritual illusion sent by the divine to teach us higher truths about the unimportance of the body and the need to transcend our humanity, what could be more certain to obscure this lesson than a body that Thomas could touch, a body that breathes the air and eats fish? The apostles, at any rate, don’t seem to have picked up on these higher truths at all. They teach instead that the Risen Christ is raised bodily and is not only fully God but fully human, albeit glorified.”

A resurrected body. Glorified. Fully God and fully man. When the alternatives have all spent themselves in fruitless clamor for our attention, it’s the old Christian story that still persuades. It’s the story of the Conqueror of Death who has Himself borne the sting of death and raised our dead human nature out of the grave so that we, too, may be resurrected. You can read all about it – without crackpot alternative explanations – in the New Testament.

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Eight From Flannery

September 22, 2009

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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.”

Beliefs Of The Modern Secular World
The modern secular world does not believe in sin, or in the value that suffering can have, or in eternal responsibility, and since we live in a world that since the sixteenth century has been increasingly dominated by secular thought, the Catholic writer often finds himself writing in and for a world that is unprepared and unwilling to see the meaning of life as he sees it. The means frequently that he may resort to violent literary means to get is vision across to a hostile audience, and the images and actions he creates may seem distorted and exaggerated to the Catholic mind….The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.

Does Truth Have To Satisfy Emotionally?
I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right (and I would not agree that for the natural man the Incarnation does not satisfy emotionally). It does not satisfy emotionally for the person brought up under many forms of false intellectual discipline such as nineteenth century mechanism, for instance. Leaving the Incarnation aside, the very notion of God’s existence is not emotionally satisfactory anymore for great numbers of people, which does not mean the God ceases to exist. M. Jean-Paul Sartre finds God emotionally unsatisfactory in the extreme, as do most of my friends of less stature than he. The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally, A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive,. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.   

The Incarnation: A Suspension Of The Laws Of The Flesh And The Physical?
To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt.  For you it may be matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws, I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace the way they were in Christ.  The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.  

I Am Chary Of Using The Word Love
I don’t think as you seem to suppose that to be a true Christian you believe that mutual interdependence is a conceit. This is far from Catholic doctrine; in fact it strikes me as highly Protestant, a sort of justification by faith. God became not only a man but Man. This is a mystery of the Redemption and our salvation is worked out on earth according as we love one another, see Christ in one another, etc., by works. This is one reason I am chary of using the word, love, loosely. I prefer to use it in its practical forms, such as prayer, almsgiving, visiting the sick and burying the dead and so forth….

Christian Faith Sharpens The Eye For The Grotesque, The Perverse, And The Unacceptable
In the greatest fiction, the writer’s moral sense coincides with his dramatic sense, and I see no way for it to do this unless his moral judgment is part of the very act of seeing, and he is free to use it.  I have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hindrance to the writer, but I myself have found nothing further from the truth. Actually it frees the storyteller to observe. It is not a set of rules which fixes what he sees in the world. It affects his writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery…

My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. In some cases, these writers may be unconsciously infected with the Manichean spirit of the times and suffer the much–discussed distinction between sensibility and belief, but I think that more often the reason for this attention to the perverse is the difference between their beliefs and the beliefs of their audience. Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

St Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage passed him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.

The Reaches Of Reality
St Augustine wrote that the things of the world pour forth from God in a double way: intellectually into the minds of the angels and physically into the world of things. To the person who believes this—as the western world did up until a few centuries ago – this physical, sensible world is good because it proceeds from a divine source. The artist usually knows this by instinct; his senses, which are used to penetrating the concrete, tell him so. When Conrad said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe, he was speaking with the novelist’s surest instinct. The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at its depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality. This in no way hinders his perceptions of evil but rather sharpens it, for only when the natural world is seen as good does evil become intelligible as a destructive force and necessary result of our freedom.
For the last few centuries we have lived in a world which has been increasingly convinced that the reaches of reality end very close to the surface, that there is no ultimate divine source, that the things of the world do not pour forth from God in a double way, or at all. For nearly two centuries the popular spirit of each succeeding generation has tended more and more to the view that the mysteries of life will eventually fall before the mind of man. Many modern novelists have been more concerned with the processes of consciousness than with the objective world outside the mind. In twentieth century fiction it increasingly happens that a meaningless, absurd world impinges upon the sacred consciousness of the author or character; author and character seldom now go out to explore and penetrate a world in which the sacred is reflected.

Types Of Modern Man
We live in an unbelieving age but one which is markedly and lopsidedly spiritual, There is one type of modern man who recognizes spirit in himself and who fails to recognize a being outside himself whom he can adore as Creator and Lord; consequently he has become his own ultimate concern…

There is another type of modern man who recognizes a divine being not himself, but who does not believe that this being can be known analogically or defined dogmatically or received sacramentally…

And there is another type of modern man who can neither believe nor contain himself in unbelief and who searches desperately, feeling about in all experience for the lost God.
At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. The fictions which celebrates this last state will be the least likely to transcend its limitation, for when the religious need is banished successfully, it usually atrophies, even in the novelist. The sense of mystery vanishes. A kind of reverse evolution takes place, and the whole range of feeling is dulled.
The searchers are another matter. Pascal wrote in his notebook, “If I had not known you, I would not have found you.” These unbelieving searchers have their effect even upon those of us who do believe. We begin to examine our own religious notions, to sound them for genuineness, to purify them in the heat of our unbelieving neighbor’s anguish. What Christian novelist would compare his concern to Camus? We have to look in much of the fiction of our time for a kind of sub-religion which expresses its ultimate concern in images that have not yet broken through to show any recognition of a God who has revealed himself…

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Jesus

September 21, 2009
Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco, 1580

Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco, 1580

In Out Of Solitude,  Henri J. M. Nouwen writes “Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives.” The Japanese had a term in their aesthetics called “aware,” pronounced ah-wah-rey, which seemed to express this very same feeling.  It seems that there is no such thing as clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. I always appreciated the curious coincidence of the pun on the English “aware” or “awareness.”

“In every satisfaction,” Nouwen continues, “there is an awareness of its limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness…”

Jesus made us look at our pains, but also beyond them. “You are sad now, but I shall see you again and your hearts will be full of joy.” A man or woman without hope in the future cannot live creatively in the present. The paradox of expectation indeed is that those who believe in tomorrow can better live today, that those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life in the center of the old, that those who look forward to the returning Lord can discover him already in their midst.

Our experience of life is profoundly paradoxical. At times we can find much in ourselves or in others which makes it easy to stand high and feel that we are indeed “little less than the gods,” as Psalm 8:2-8 puts it:

“You have set your glory above the heavens. 
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

 At other times we find much that cuts us down at the knees and makes it difficult to believe in anything. And at the end, death stands waiting to cut us down. Nonetheless, the long history of human hope, love, labor and struggle continues. It is testimony to our conviction that our lives do make sense, that we and our world are truly becoming something, that there is a real future. Here are the reflections of some writers who have found Jesus in their midst and the sense it has brought to their lives:

The Parable Of The Lilies Of The Field
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

There is perhaps nothing so perfect in all language or literature as the use of these three degrees in the parable of the lilies of the field; in which he seems first to take one small flower in his hand and note its simplicity and even its impotence; then suddenly expands it in flamboyant colors into all the palaces and pavilions full of a great name in national legend and national glory (Solomon); and then, by yet a third overturn, shrivels into nothing once more with a gesture as if flinging it away `and if God so clothes the grass that today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven– how much more’ It is like the building of a good Babel tower by white magic in a moment and in the movement of a hand; a tower heaved suddenly up to heaven on the top of which can be seen afar off, higher than we had fancied possible, the figure of man; lifted by three infinities above all other things, on a starry ladder of light logic and swift imagination. Merely in a literary sense it would be more of a masterpiece than most of the masterpieces in the libraries; yet it seems to have been uttered almost at random while a man might pick a flower.

But merely in a literary sense also, this use of the comparative in several degrees has about it a quality which seems to me to hint of much higher things than the modern suggestion of the simple teaching of pastoral or communal ethics.  There is nothing that really indicates a subtle and in the true sense a superior mind so much as this power of comparing a lower thing with a higher and yet that higher with a higher still; of thinking on three planes at once. There is nothing that wants the rarest sort of wisdom so much as to see, let us say, that the citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely higher than the citizen or the city.

It is not by any means a faculty that commonly belongs to these simplifiers of the Gospel; those who insist on what they call a simple morality and others call a sentimental morality.  It is not at all covered by those who are content to tell everybody to remain at peace. On the contrary, there is a very striking example of it in the apparent inconsistency between Christ’s sayings about peace and about a sword. It is precisely this power which perceives that while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace. These far-flung comparisons are nowhere so common as in the Gospels; and to me they suggest something very vast.  So a thing solitary and solid, with the added dimension of depth or height, might tower over the flat creatures living only on a plane.
G. K. Chesterton On Jesus Christ (Taken From The Everlasting Man)

The Resurrection Of Christ As The High Point In The Law Of Nature
To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt.  For you it may be matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws, I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace the way they were in Christ.  The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature. 
Flannery O’Connor Spiritual Writings – Robert Ellsberg (Editor)

Tolstoy On The Gospels
An idea becomes close to you only when you are aware of it in your soul, when in reading about it it seems that it has already occurred to you, that you know it and you are simply recalling it. That’s how it was when I read the Gospel. In the Gospels I discovered a new world: I had not yet supposed that there was such a depth of thought in them. Yet it all seemed so familiar; it seemed that I had known it all long ago, that I had only forgotten it.
Tolstoy, As recorded in Bulgakov’s Diary 18 April 1910
Jesus – Malcolm Muggeridge

Fantasy, Truth And The Eye
I want to cry out with the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight: One thing that I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. How, I ask myself, could I have missed it before? How not have understood that the grey-silver light across the water, the cry of the sea-gulls and the sweep of their wings, everything on which my eyes rest and my ears hear is telling me about God.

 This life’s dim Windows of the Soul
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
And leads you to believe a Lie
When you see with, not thro’, the Eye.

Thus Blake distinguishes between the fantasy that is seen with the eye and truth that is seen though it. There are two clearly demarcated kingdoms; and passing from one to the other, from the kingdom of fantasy to the kingdom of reality, gives inexpressible delight. As when the sun comes out, and a dark landscape is suddenly glorified, all that was obscure becoming clear, all that was incomprehensible, comprehensible. Fantasy’s joys and desires dissolve away and in their place is one joy, one desire; one Oneness — God. In this kingdom of reality, Simone Weil tells us, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as goodness; no desert so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. There we may understand what St. Augustine meant when he insisted that ‘though the higher things are better than the lower, the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone, and how, in  the light of this realization, all human progress, human morality, human law, based, as they are, on the opposite proposition – of the intrinsic superiority of the higher over the lower – is seen as written on water, scribbled on dust; like Jesus’ scribble while he was waiting for the accusers of he woman taken in adultery to disperse.
Jesus – Malcolm Muggeridge

St Augustine’s Preaching After Hearing The News Of The Sack Of Rome
Jesus had indeed overcome the world, and forever…He had overcome the world by revealing its true nature, its reality contrasting with the layer upon layer of fantasy which the human ego is endlessly constructing out of itself, like a monstrous coral reef. The revelation was Jesus’ good news, the kingdom he came to proclaim. In its light, we may know ourselves to be displaced persons, who yet are given eyes, if we care to use them, capable of seeing here on earth, all the contours and of our true habitat and dwelling-place-to-be. Thus St Augustine’s preaching…after hearing the news of the sack of Rome:

You are surprised that the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old and full of pressing tribulations? Do not hold on to the old man, the world; do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: the world is passing away, the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear, thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle.
Jesus – Malcolm Muggeridge

Dostoevsky’s Creed
“One sees the truth more clearly when one is unhappy,” he wrote from Siberia. “And yet God gives me moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simply: here it is. I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Savior: I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one.”

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Book Recommendation: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

September 18, 2009

canticle bookcoverA Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American Walter M. Miller Jr., first published in 1960. Miller passed away in the 1990’s and together with its sequel published posthumously in 1997 (Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman ) it is the only novel published by the author during his lifetime. Considered one of the classics of science fiction, it has never been out of print and has seen over 25 reprints and editions. Appealing to mainstream and genre critics and readers alike, it won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

An Amazon reviewer has written: “Walter Miller’s only major novel is not simply a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel but also a multi-layered meditation on the conflict between knowledge and morality. Six hundred years after a nuclear holocaust, an abbey of Catholic monks survives during a new Dark Ages and preserves the little that remains of the world’s scientific knowledge. The monks also seek evidence concerning the existence of Leibowitz, their alleged founder (who, the reader soon realizes, is a Jewish scientist who appears to have been part of the nuclear industrial complex of the 1960s). The second part fast-forwards another six hundred years, to the onset of a new Renaissance; a final section again skips yet another six hundred years, to the dawn of a second Space Age–complete, once again, with nuclear weapons.

The only character who appears in all three sections is the Wandering Jew–borrowed from the anti-Semitic legend of a man who mocked Jesus on the way to the crucifixion and who was condemned to a vagrant life on earth until Judgment Day. Miller resurrects this European slander and sanitizes him as a curmudgeonly hermit, a voice of reason in a desert wilderness, an observer to humankind’s repeated stupidities, a friend to the monks and abbots, the ghost of Leibowitz (perhaps)–and even the voice of Miller himself.

Throughout “Canticle,” Miller’s search for religious faith clashes with his respect for scientific rationalism. For Miller, Lucifer is not a fallen angel but technological discovery unencumbered by a moral compass; “Lucifer is fallen” becomes the code phrase the future Church uses to indicate the imminent threat of a second nuclear holocaust. The ability of humankind to abuse learning for evil purposes, to continually expel itself from the Garden of Eden, perplexes and haunts the author: “The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well.”

Some readers might be turned off by the book’s religious undercurrent, but that would be to mistake fiction for a sermon. The work is certainly infused with the author’s Catholicism, but its philosophy is far too ambiguous to be read like a homily. This is no “Battlefield Earth.” Instead, it is Miller’s highly personal act of atonement; he acknowledged later in life that his fictional monastery was first subconsciously, then purposefully modeled on the ancient Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino, which, as a World War II pilot, he bombed to smithereens. (An historical aside: most of the major Greco-Roman scientific and mathematical texts were preserved for posterity by Arabic scholars–not by medieval Catholic monks. But this is fiction, and it’s not clear whether Miller is trying to replicate Church history as it was or as he felt it should have been.)

In many ways, Miller’s Catholicism is as conflicted in the book as it was in his own life. He changed religious beliefs several times; in the 1980s, he immersed himself in Buddhist texts. Throughout “Canticle,” you can see Miller wrestling with his spiritual beliefs and with his own demons, and in the final chapters, Miller includes an extended debate over whether suicide and euthanasia (and, tangentially, abortion) are ever viable options, even to avoid the worst forms of pain and certain death. Although he seems to side with Catholic views on these issues. View the last reading selection for a powerful reflection on abortion: The Authority Of A Simple Direct Command. Miller committed suicide in 1996.”

Unlike some modern offerings (think Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol) that distract readers with religious and philosophical musings cast as attacks against the Church, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” is infused and enriched by them. It’s not only a compelling, well-written story, it’s an allegorical tale that might encourage readers to explore and struggle with their own beliefs.”

Reading selections follow:

Save Wisdom Until The World Is Wise
“What you really suggest,” said the scholar, “is that we wait a little while. That we dissolve the collegium, or move it out to the desert, and somehow – with no gold or silver of our own – revive an experimental and theoretical science in some slow hard way, and tell nobody. That we save it all up for the day when Man is good and pure and holy and wise.”

“That is not what I meant –“

“That is not what you meant to say, but it is what your saying means. Keep science cloistered, don’t try to apply it, don’t try to do anything about it until men are holy. Well, it won’t work. You’ve been doing it here in this abbey for generations.”

“We haven’t withheld anything.”

“You haven’t withheld it; but you sat on it so quietly, nobody knew it was here, and you did nothing with it.”

Brief anger flared in the old priest’s eyes. “It’s time you met our founder, I think,” he growled, pointing to the woodcarving in the corner. “He was a scientist like yourself before the world went mad and he ran for sanctuary. He founded this Order to save what could be saved of the records of the last civilization. ‘Saved’ from what and for what? Look where he is standing – see the kindling? The books? That’s how little the world wanted your science then and for centuries afterward. So he died for our sake. When they drenched him with fuel oil, legend says he asked them for a cup of it, They thought he mistook it for water, so they laughed and gave him a cup. He blessed it and – some say the oil changed to wine when he blessed it – and then: ‘Hic est enim calix Sanguinis Mei.’ And he drank it before they hung him and set him on fire. Shall I read you a list of our martyrs? Shall I name all the battles we have fought to keep these records intact? All the monks blinded in the copyroom? For your sake?  Yet you say we did nothing with it, withheld it by silence.”

“Not intentionally,” the scholar said, “but in effect you did – and for the very motives you imply should be mine. If you try to save wisdom until the world is wise, Father, the world will never have it.”

“I can see the misunderstanding is basic!” the abbot said gruffly, “To serve God first, or to serve Hannegan first – that’s your choice.”

“I have little choice, then,” answered the Thon. “Would you have me work for the Church?” The scorn in his voice was unmistakable.

A Species Congenitally Insane?
The world’s been in a habitual state of crisis for fifty years. Fifty? What am I saying? It’s been in a habitual state of crisis since the beginning – but for half a century now, almost unbearable. And why, for the love of God? What is the fundamental irritant, the essence of the tension? Political philosophies? Economics? Population pressure? Disparity of culture and creed? Ask a dozen experts, get a dozen answers. Now Lucifer again. Is the species congenitally insane, Brother? If we’re born mad, where’s the hope of heaven? Through faith alone? Or isn’t there any? God forgive me, I don’t mean that.

A World No Longer Willing To Believe Or Yearn
He peered up again at the dusty stars of morning. Well, there would be no Edens found out there, they said. Yet there were men out there now, men who looked up to strange suns in stranger skies, gasped strange air, tilled strange earth. On worlds of equatorial tundra, worlds of steaming Arctic jungle, a little like Earth perhaps, enough like Earth so that Man might live somehow, by the same sweat of his brow. There were but a handful, these celestial colonists of Homo loquax nonnumquam sapiens (Homo talkative sometimes wise) , a few harassed colonies of humanity that had had small help from Earth thus far; and now they might expect no help at all, there in their new non-Edens, even less like paradise than Earth had been. Fortunately for them perhaps. The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for them, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they – this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that man might hope again in wretched darkness.

You Don’t Have A Soul,You Are A Soul
The visitor shrugged. “Like euthanasia? I’m sorry, Father, I feel that the laws of society are what makes something a crime or not a crime. I’m aware that you don’t agree. And there can be bad laws, ill-conceived, true. But in this case we have a good law. If I thought I had such a thing as a soul, and there was an angry God in Heaven, I might agree with you.”

Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

The visitor laughed politely. “A semantic confusion.”

“True. But which of us is confused? Are you sure?”

 The Authority Of A Simple Direct Command
“I had a cat once, when I was a boy,” the abbot murmured slowly. He was a big gray tomcat with shoulders like a small bulldog and a head and neck to match, and that sort of slouchy insolence that makes some of them look like the Devil’s own. He was pure cat. Do you know cats?”

“ A little.”

“Cat lovers don’t know cats. You can’t love all cats if you know cats, and the ones you can love if you know them are the ones that cat lovers don’t even like. Zeke was that kind of cat.

“This has a moral, of course?” She was watching him suspiciously.

“Only that I killed him.”

“Stop. Whatever you’re about to say, stop.”

“A truck hit him, crushed his back legs. He dragged himself under the house. Once in awhile he’d make a noise like a cat fight and thrash around a little, but mostly he just lay quietly and waited. ‘He ought to be destroyed,’ they kept telling me. After a few hours he dragged himself out from under the house crying for help. ‘He ought to be destroyed,’ they said. I wouldn’t let them do it. They said it was cruel to let him live. So finally I said I’d do it myself, if it had to be done. I got a gun and a shovel and took him to the edge of the woods, I stretched him out on the ground while I dug a hole, Then I shot him through the head. It was a small bore rifle. Zeke thrashed a couple of times, then got up and started dragging himself toward some bushes, I shot him again. It knocked him flat, so I thought he was dead, and put him in the hole. After a couple shovels of dirt, Zeke got up and pulled himself out of the hole and started for the bushes again. I was crying louder than the cat. I had to kill him with the shovel. I had to put him back in the hole and use the blade of the shovel like a cleaver, and while I was chopping with it, Zeke was still thrashing around. They told me later it was just a spinal reflex, but I didn’t believe it. I knew that cat. He wanted to get to those bushes and just lie there and wait. I wished to God that I had only let him get to those bushes and die the way a cat would if you just let it alone – with dignity. I never felt right about it. Zeke was only a cat, but —

“Shut up!” she whispered.

“ – but even the ancient pagans noticed that Nature imposes nothing on you that nature doesn’t prepare you to bear. If that is true of a cat, then is it not more perfectly true of a creature with rational intellect and will – whatever you may believe of Heaven?”

“Shut up. Damn you, shut up!” she hissed.

If I’m being a little brutal,” said the priest, “then it is to you, not the baby. The baby, as you say, can’t understand. And you, as you say, are not complaining. Therefore—”

“Therefore you are asking me to let her die slowly and –”

“No! I’m not asking you. As a priest of Christ I am commanding you by the authority of Almighty God not to lay hands on your child, not to offer her life in sacrifice to a false god of expedient mercy. I do not advise you. I adjure and command you in the name of Christ the King. Is that clear?”

Dom Zerchi had never spoken with such a voice before, and the ease with which the words came to his lips surprised even the priest. As he continued to look at her, her eyes fell. For an instant he had feared that the girl would laugh in his face. When Holy Church occasionally hinted that she still considered her authority to be supreme over all nations and superior to the authority of states, men in these times tended to snicker. And yet the authority of the command could still be sensed by a bitter girl with a dying child. It had been brutal to reason with her, and he regretted it. A simple direct command might accomplish what persuasion could not. She needed the voice of authority now, more than she needed persuasion. He could see it by the way she had wilted, although he had spoken the command as gently as his voice could manage.

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Book Recommendation: A Refutation of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft

September 16, 2009

Kreeft BookThere was a reviewer on Amazon that got this book perfectly: “Professor `Isa Ben Adam (nice name in translation), a Palestinian Arab scholar and Absolutist, is interviewed (and debated) by Moral Relativist Libby Rawls, a black journalist and former wife, psychological social worker, surfing instructor, actress, alcoholic, and PI. What a marvellous debate ensues as Libby throws every relativist argument at the learned prof, only to have them roundly and soundly demolished!

This easy non-academic read is a useful guide for those engaged in dinner-table debates on this most crucial of issues. Obviously born from years of experience as an embattled Absolutist in American adademia, this Kreeft work is a delight to read as it sets out the arguments for and against. As everyone who’s ever debated this subject knows, it’s very hard to avoid ad hominems and other flesh-cutting retreats from reason, and they’re here just as in real life. Another step towards the Restoration of Metaphysics. This is the book you’ll want your Relativist friends to read (but which they’ll probably ignore because refutation has too many implications for their personal lives). Get it.”

You’re relativist friends won’t go anywhere near it, but highlight some of the selections below and email them. If you spend anytime on the Internet, as I do, arguing for your faith against the diabolists, learning this stuff becomes highly instructional because you see the how the august liberal mind works. Many just bloviate their talking points so it is possible to engage them and talk the air out of them. For that Professor Kreeft should have our profound thanks.

The Future of Society Under Moral Relativism
The modern West (geographically, Europe and its former colonies; theologically, apostate Christendom) is the first society in history whose mind molders are moral relativists. No other society in history has ever survived without rejecting moral relativism and believing in moral absolutes. There has never been a society of relativists, any more than a society of solipsists. Therefore, this society will either disprove one of the most universally established laws of history, or repent of its relativism and survive , or persist in its relativism and perish… C.S. Lewis said in “The Poison of Subjectivism”, relativism will certainly “damn our souls and end our species.” (He said that because he was a Christian), so he could not disagree with the teaching of Jesus and of all the prophets in Jesus’ Jewish tradition — and later Islamic Tradition, too….In order to be saved, to go to heaven, you need to repent. But you can’t repent if you don’t believe in sin to repent of, and you can’t believe in sin if you don’t believe in a real moral law, because sin means disobeying that. Moral relativism eliminates that law, thus sin thus repentance, thus salvation.

Submission of the Heart to Truth And The Relativistic Churchgoer
A religious believer who knows the true and the good in his head but who doesn’t love it in his heart and his life — he won’t submit to it, he wants to make it relative to his desires, relative to what his heart really loves and wants and seeks — he’ll lose even the truth and goodness he already has by making it relative to himself, his heart, his will, his desires, his demands. He won’t submit is heart to truth. That’s the essence of all true religion: submission of the heart to truth, to God, to what God is: truth and moral goodness. That’s why I say that the honest and moral atheist is a religious man and the realistic churchgoer is not. The atheist really wants to submit to the truth; he just doesn’t know what he truth is. The relativistic churchgoer has had the truth given to him, and he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t want to submit to it, he won’t convert his heart and his life to it. So he chooses to change it instead of letting it change him. He wants to sing “My Way”. …It’s the first things principle: put first things first and second things will follow; refuse to put first things first and you lose the second things too.

Four Different Kinds Of Relativism
There are four different kinds of relativism:
(1) metaphysical relativism is the same as theism (assuming God means the absolute being). Metaphysics is about being.
(2)Religious relativism says there is no absolute religion, no absolutely best or truest religious relationship with God. Atheism says there is no God, no absolute being, no absolute anywhere in reality.
(3)Epistemological relativism says that perhaps there is a being somewhere; but it can’t be known. There’s no absolute in human knowledge, skepticism about the absolute, at least, or agnosticism. Or it could be total skepticism, skepticism about all reality…. Metaphysical relativism says “No absolute in reality”, and epistemological relativism says “Perhaps in reality but not in knowledge” and then
(4) moral relativism says” perhaps there are absolutes in non-moral knowledge, like “two and two make four”, but not in moral knowledge: we know no moral absolutes:. And then finally religious relativism says “Perhaps in moral knowledge but not in religious knowledge. Perhaps love, or the Golden Rule, or justice, can be known to be absolute, but no religion can.” ….Relativism says there are no absolutes… Absolutism says there are some absolutes. At least one absolute. Absolutism is relatively absolutistic, and relativism is absolutely relativistic.

Foundations of Modern Moral Relativism
The first relativist was the devil: “Did God say that in the day you eat of the forbidden fruit you will die? I say you won’t. God is keeping something from you. Eat this and you will know what it is. You will know God’s dark side. The light is relative to the dark, and the dark to the light. Good and evil are relative, you see. The sophists called themselves “wise men”, men of Sophia. Socrates called himself a lover of wisdom instead….Sophists said: “man is a measure of all things — my mind, your mind, any individual mind is the measure of all things, or at least of good and evil — what could be more arrogant than that?

It’s arrogant because the measurers of wisdom can’t be measured by wisdom and they can’t be judged as unwise. If you are the measure, you are the God…Peter Abelard in the middle ages was a kind of Christian relativist with his new teaching that our personal subjective motive was the defining thing that made any act good or evil. But the main foundation of modern relativism in medieval Christian philosophy was William of Ockam’s Nominalism.

Nominalism was the philosophy that reduced all universal terms to mere names, nomina — there are no real universals, is what Nominalism says — and therefore there are no moral universals, like “Honesty is always good” or “Adultery is always evil”, by the very nature of those things , by their unchangeable essence….Ockam’s Razor was his famous principle that led to relativism…”never multiply entities beyond necessity”, that is you should always choose the simplest hypothesis, the most reductionist explanation. Reduce the complex to the simple. That’s why he eliminated universals.

How Relativism Evolved
First through what philosophers call the divine command theory got rid of the more complex natural law theory. The divine command theory says that God’s command is the only thing that makes an act right, or morally good. The natural law theory says that there is also a natural law, as well as a divine law — a law that comes form the nature of the act itself, and the nature of man and that this natural law also makes an act good or evil. The natural law is the proximate cause; the divine law is the ultimate cause. Two causes instead of one; not the simplest explanation. Ockam’s Razor could be used to eliminate either one.

The religious Nominalists like Luther thought they could maximize religion by eliminating the divine law, and the nonreligious Nominalists thought they could minimize religion by eliminating the divine law. Both sides used the razor. The same principle that the Protestant reformers used to eliminate the natural law and natural human reason that knows it, the secularists used to eliminate divine law and the faith that knows that. Faith and reason became enemies instead of the allies that they were in all classical medieval philosophy, whether Islamic or Jewish or Christian.

The Relation Between The Intrinsic Goodness Of An Act And God Willing It
Islamic philosophy had had the same controversy centuries earlier…is a thing right (Socrates used “pious”) because God wills it or does God will it because it’s right? …What is the relation between the intrinsic goodness of an act and God willing it, or between the intrinsic badness of an act and God forbidding it? Which is the cause of the other?  If God’s law causes an act to be good or evil, then God seems arbitrary and irrational, and we’re back in pagan theology with Zeus instead of God.

The bad religious consequence is an irrational arbitrary despot. The bad human consequence is that all of human morality then seems to come from God’s mere power, not from anything rational, anything our reason can understand (Assuming we can’t understand God’s mind and motives, only our own.) That’s the first horn of the dilemma. The other horn of the dilemma is this: if you say that the nature of the human act is the cause or reason why god wills or forbids it, then you’re putting something above God.  Because you’re saying that this thing  — the intrinsic nature of the human act — is the cause of God willing it. Then God is no longer God, no longer the First Cause, the Uncaused Cause.

So you’re back in pagan theology again. The solution was to show that Ockam’s Razor was wrong — An act is good or evil both because of its nature and because of God’s will. And god’s will is rational , not arbitrary, because it flows from his nature. He is good. That’s why he wills good for us, and that’s why good acts are good. So there are really three things involved , three causes, in a sense: God’s nature, God’s will, and the nature of the act. The Razor tempts you to cut two of them away.

Empiricism And Relativism
Empiricism led to what’s called the “emotivist theory of value”: the notion that moral judgments like “Murder is wrong” are really only an expression the speaker’s subjective feelings about murder rather than statements about the real objective nature of the act of murder — in other words there’s nothing right or wrong, but thinking makes it so… David Hume was the philosopher who analyzed moral judgments as subjective feelings, “Murder is evil” really means “I hate murder”

Facts And Values: A Truism
Analytic philosophy has an axiom, an assumption — they almost accept this as a truism — that there’s a radical distinction between facts and values. Facts are objective and values are not And this truism — this false fact of professional philosophy has seeped into popular thinking by a kind of osmosis. It comes out in our use of the word “values” instead of “laws” or “virtues” or “goods“. Nobody ever used the world values to refer to anything moral or ethical because the nineteenth century before Nietzsche or Kant.

The Source of Morality
Morality is objective and comes from universal human nature. It is not subjective and does not proceed some human wills ( a consensus, public, collective, social). The absolutist says reality includes things like God or gods, and angels, or spirits. And eternal truths, the nature of things, unchangeable essences, Platonic Ideas, divine Ideas. So reality can include objective values, real goods. Morality was a dimension of reality before the Enlightenment, not just a dimension of thinking or feeling.

Kant and Morality
Kant’s most important idea was the notion that the human mind makes the truth instead of discovering it, that truth is formed by the human mind. And that includes moral truth, Kant called true morality “autonomous”, that is man-made rather than “heteronymous”, made by another, by God….Kant believed that all minds worked the same way and created the same morality — like logic or math. So morality was universal and necessary for Kant but not objective — one short step from relativism.

Hegel And Relativism
Hegel added another idea that became part of relativism: universal process. Everything flows, everything is in flux. Truth itself evolves, even God evolves, through human history, according to Hegel. History is like a mother and God is its baby. And then along came Nietzsche who aborted the baby.

Existentialism And Moral Relativism
Existentialists generally hold a rejection of ”abstractions”, that is universals, including moral universals. In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard praises Abraham for transcending the moral law when he was willing to kill Isaac because “the individual is higher than the universal.”

Deconstructionists
Deconstructionism explicitly denies the very essence of language: internationality. That’s the technical, traditional term for the quality words have that makes them meaningful, significant, signs that point beyond themselves to objective reality. There is no objective reality to these Deconstructionists, no world beyond texts. Texts are worlds and worlds are texts….Nietzsche called himself “the philosopher with the hammer”…He said “We (atheists) have not gotten ridden of God until we have gotten rid of the grammar”…Grammar is the traces of God and creation and form and objective truth and order in language…the deconstructionists rage against even that trace of divine order, because they see it’s connected with moral order.

Denying Absolute Morality
Data comes first , the experience comes first, and it has to judge the theory, not vice versa…Real objective morality, absolute morality can be denied by your modern theory, but only after it is first affirmed by your natural moral experience, by everybody’s moral experience. You can deny moral absolutes only as a Buddhist denies matter…Conscience immediately detects real right and wrong, just as the senses immediately detect real colors and shapes…Moral relativism is to moral experience what Buddhism is to the experience of the senses or what Mary Baker Eddy’s “Christian Science” is the experience of sickness an death. These philosophies all tell us not to trust our experience, that our experience deceives us,  that the thing we experience isn’t really there! They say the experience is an illusion to be overcome by faith…Moral relativism is a faith , a dogma an ideology. Moral absolutism is empirical or experiential. It’s data based, data friendly.

Opinions And Values
Different cultures may have different opinions about what’s morally right and wrong, jus as they have different opinions about what happens after death; but that doesn’t (mean) what’s right in one culture is wrong in another. What’s believed to be right and what really is right aren’t necessarily the same, just as what’s believed to exist after death and what really exists aren’t necessarily the same. We can be wrong about it. Just because I don’t believe there is no hell doesn’t mean there is none or that I won’t go there. If it did, the infallible way to be saved would be just stop believing in hell!…Just because a good Nazi thinks that genocide is right, that doesn’t mean that it is….An opinion INTENDS something; it refers to something, it has a referent. If values are only opinions, what are their referent? “Thou shalt not murder” and “Courage is good” aren’t opinions about how many people will be killed or how many people are in fact courageous. Values are not opinions about facts or opinions about opinions (opinions without referents).

Moral Differences Need Common Premises (An Absolute)
Beneath a moral difference you always find some moral argument. Otherwise it’s not a moral argument. Because all argument needs a common premise. You can’t even imagine a  totally new morality any more than you can imagine a totally new universe, or set of numbers or colors….Try to imagine a society where honesty and justice and courage and self-control and faith and hope and charity are evil, and lying and cheating and stealing and cowardice and betrayal and addiction and despair and hate are all good.  You just can’t do it….You can create different acceptable rules for driving and speech and clothing and eating drinking…but we are not free to make murder or rape or slavery or treason right, or charity and justice wrong. We can create different mores but not different morals….We know from experience that we’re free to choose to hate, but we’re not free to experience a moral obligation to hate, only to love.

The Four Cardinal Virtues
The four cardinal virtues are a kind of trinity, or trinity: one thing with three aspects…in Plato’s version anyway. The three parts are wisdom, courage, and self-control, and together they make up justice. Wisdom means knowing the truth, especially the moral truth, the truth about the good to be done. Courage means the will choosing the good even when it hurts, the will following reason instead of the desires when reason says X is good and the desires say X doesn’t feel good, when it gives pain instead of pleasure. And self-control means not following passion when passion says X is fun and reason says it’s evil — not listening to the philosophy that says, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” It’s also called temperance; tempering the feelings or desires, controlling the desires moderating them, not being a fanatic about anyone , like alcohol or money or media approval or sex….in the minds of  society’s mind molders, self-control has become repression.

Ecstasies
Sex and death are thrills because they’re ecstasies in the literal sense of the word: standing-outside-your-self, out-of-body experiences. Death has been secularized into another learning experience or just another stage of life to accept blandly and limply like a nice night’s sleep…. Sex and drug addicts are looking for heaven…the state of mind that the saints in heaven have and the mystics have for brief moments on earth…in some of the very worst places….God wants us all to have that but not by using drugs or illicit sex.

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