Mark 9:24

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Original sin means hope

In Armchair Apologetics on July 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Original sin is the deprivation of original holiness among men. Properly understood, such a deprivation is, to use a skeptic’s buzzword, empirical. Wrote Lewis:

The key is history. Terrific energy expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.

What better description of the human condition is there besides original sin?

We do not bear particular guilt for original sin, but we suffer under it all the same.

Confucian Taoists explain this through a dualism, giving equal force and substance to evil as well as good, assigning equally matched agents to each side. Marxists, for their part, explain this observation with a similar dualism, dialectical materialism, offering also the hope that utopia is just around the corner. Buddhism blames attachment. In each of these, some men are really evil— in the case of Buddhism, we replace these scales with measuring attachment to things and persons. It takes only a civics course here in the United States to learn that our restricted government is thanks to the very similar observation that no man in high office should be trusted with much power.

If we approach original sin with this understanding, we see the outstanding thing about it very clearly. Original sin is essentially hopeful.

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Truth even in desecration

In On Atheism on July 27, 2011 at 7:22 am

Looking again at PZ Myers’ desecration of the Eucharist, we here more, albeit smaller, nuggets of truth:

By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.

Without faith --- trust --- in even one particular other, we marvel only at our distorted self-image.

Regarding the comments about a cracker, we should respond as Peter Kreeft:

Our enemies are not anti-Catholic bigots who want to crucify us. They are the ones we’re trying to save. They are our patients, not our disease. Our word for them is Christ’s: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We say this of the Chinese communist totalitarians who imprison and persecute Catholics, and to the Sudanese Muslim terrorists who enslave and murder Catholics. They are not our enemies, they are our patients. We are Christ’s nurses. The patients think the nurses are their enemies, but the nurses know better.

Kreeft is at times too snarky and polemical for my taste, but in this he hit the nail on the head. Again, there is at least a little truth everywhere.

Myers, for his part, is right to say that The God Delusion certainly must not be held sacred, and not for the reasons an atheist might think I mean.

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Chaos theories

In Lay Meditations on July 25, 2011 at 2:26 am

Being more a grammarian than a mathematician, and having more interest in what symbols convey than what they describe, the phrase, “chaos theory,” is wonderfully deep. Is it an absurd joke played on us by men smarter than we’ll ever be? I say this with the profoundest respect, keeping in mind the delightful oddity of mathematicians. Keeping in mind their particular character, however, we must reject this hypothesis.

To depict chaos in any way is to define it.

If mathematicians fool around in their jokes with concepts from mere calculus, when it comes to their work they are as much the monomaniac as any specialist. I decide, therefore, that they are serious in talking of chaos theory. I think this does a great credit to men of numbers that such a field can exist without self-contradiction, and, even if not, perhaps it describes a number of impulses of faith made by the mathematicians, at least some of them good. We must note that the idea that there can be any theory about chaos is a huge profession of faith on the part of a mathematician. It means that, “No matter how disorganized this seems, there must at least be some rules governing it.”

For emphasis: All things, even chaos, have some order. No science is possible without the belief that for what exists there is explanation. If scientists did not harbor this assumption, science would have no motive power. We would guess once and, failing, would settle for a mystery. God of the gaps indeed. On the other hand, perhaps it reflects a grim finality: This is really chaos.

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Countering heresy

In Lay Meditations on July 24, 2011 at 1:45 am

We cannot explain why orthodoxy wins over heresy by appealing to the iron heel. If the Church ever crushed opposition, proponents of this view citing the relatively bloodless Inquisition and more sophisticated critics citing the crusade against the essentially anarchist Cathars, it is not the pattern. For example, over the Arians, who had full state support, orthodoxy prevailed through the martyrdom of the again-oppressed Christians. Against the lies of the Eastern bloc governments, Christianity flourished in defiance.

Only in the sense of the eventual victor is orthodoxy a history of the winners.

I do not say that Christian truth is and always has been oppressed — as ignored as it may be from time to time — nor do I attempt to justify the Inquisition, but rather I say that reality is not nearly so simple than the “iron heel” hypothesis.

To go farther we must define our terms: Orthodoxy translates as “right belief,” and so the opposed, heresy, is “wrong belief.” More specifically, heresy is “undue emphasis of a certain portion or aspect of doctrine at the expense of another.” Heresy is, essentially, deception. As with all lies — and all evil things — it begins with a truth and twists or inflames that truth beyond its proper portion. It is obsession, very soon paired with denial of ecclesial authority, and, I believe, motivated more by a desire for originality or worldly fame than for truth. On the simple level of falsehood, heresy is already grave matter.

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Idols of horsemen

In On Atheism on July 19, 2011 at 5:40 am

Among atheists most follow the pattern Kreeft notes: “If we do not worship God, we will worship idols, for we are by nature worshipers.” I’ve seen intellect, sensation and an abstract subjective happiness. Some, perhaps like men who very shallowly read Asimov, instead have faith in identifying the vague progress of science as a science of universal progress. They transpose the proper utility of science in the material and use it as a weapon, aiming at the immaterial. They ignore the simple fact that we recognize metaphysics because Aristotle knew physics answers only hows and is useless toward whys.

What is founded on the world does not reach very high beyond it, and will shudder with the earth.

Read Asimov a little deeper, though, and we see he realizes that science cannot correct what is wrong with men. It does not take much knowledge of the deterioration of the Spacers, or of the Empire, or even of the Foundation to disassociate Asimov from utopianism. However clever Hari Seldon, his psychohistory fails. As Lewis notes in his explanation of original sin:

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.

We also see some elite condescension in atheist circles which, although it has a parallel in certain prelates who disdained drumming in St. Peter’s when the African bishops were scheduled for Rome, has no parallel in the man who said, “the more African, the better.” Some atheists, observably not despairing of anything but Christians, have a kind of pride we find in every heresy — even the Gnostics thought they were bearers of a secret immortal truth available to an elite few, and they believed that the deluded Christians should be dissuaded with absurdities. We see it in the state endorsement of Arianism, in the mockeries of the Manichees and throughout materialist scientism.

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Everywhere, at least a little truth

In Pursue Truth on July 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Even as atheist blogger PZ Myers desecrated the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, there are specific points of wisdom in which Myers might as well be Aquinas, though we must take care to rope off his modern chauvinism.

You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity’s knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality.

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez. St. Thomas here shows us his virtue, but it is not his intelligence. Intelligence, though good, is not a virtue.

His call to thinking and learning parallels the affirmation by Thomas Aquinas that we should use, we should exercise our God-given faculties. While he cites glory of God and gratitude for His blessings, the effect is certainly to advance humanity’s knowledge, and this is a solemn duty for those capable. If we are free to dismiss this as him being a distant heir of Aquinas through his association with a university — Scholasticism being the immediate progenitor of the universities — we at least then see the incredible debt any sort of intelligentsia has to Christendom.

Moreover, atheists do winnow out the errors of the temporal Church Militant, the excesses and absurdities of unsophisticated fundamentalism as much as the greatest wickedness and sins of Catholics. For this service we owe them gratitude. No man can have too much humility.

He spoils it all with a final falsehood.

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Do not limit the mercy of God

In Armchair Apologetics on July 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Some months ago I had an exchange with a commenter on YouTube where he, responding to the claim that even gravely evil men are not beyond salvation if they repent before their deathbed, asked something to the effect of, “So you’re saying that Adolf Hitler could be in Heaven and Anne Frank could be in Hell?” Considering that Anne Frank was specifically martyred for her faith, I doubt that particular scenario, but the curious theme is specifically the salvation of men who, by their very evil deeds, stretch our knowledge of evil.

The Taking of Christ in the Garden, by Caravaggio.

This sort of claim came to mind while reading a recent post on Tough Questions Answered.

I find that many non-believers are hopelessly confused about salvation by God’s grace.  This confusion was amply illustrated the other day on an Unbelievable? podcast when the atheist debater challenged the Christian debater with the following: “Isn’t it true that the Christian God would have allowed Hitler into heaven if he had repented and trusted in Christ on his deathbed?”

These are not perplexing questions if you douse them with truth. They are only perplexing questions if you fight that fire with fire, posing and posturing and twisting the meaning of words to win a debate like a sophist and not to let the truth stand strong. If were are totally honest, the answer is, simply, yes. I don’t remember my response on the YouTube video other than it contained that “yes.” To this, the atheist said, in a disgusted tone, “Some religion.” Again: yes.

For that matter, I firmly believe the correct response — quite different from an answer — is a kind of ad hominem:

We are charged to ‘Repent, and believe,’ and only final impenitence is unforgivable. Not even Hitler is beyond God’s mercy unless Hitler willed it. Are your sins so bad that you are beyond God’s grace?

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Good without God?

In Armchair Apologetics on July 16, 2011 at 7:29 am

Men who say, “It is possible to be a good person without being a Christian,” speak the truth, but the error is in the thrust of this spearpoint and not in its hardiness. By this point, the speaker means to continue with the implication, unspoken, that it is pointless to be a Christian, a deposit of unnecessary effort, because to try to be a good person is all that is needed to enter any final reward the Christian posits. Let us separate the wheat from chaff in this fuzzy thinking. In short, the statement is true as far as it goes; the problem is that it doesn’t go far enough. We must know, if we know anything, that only being a good person is not the goal of Christianity.


Mere goodness is not the goal.

Goodness as it is meant is not “living sinlessly” but instead “living without sinning too much.” This is inadequate, if not in works then certainly in temperament. To be a great person — holy, God-fearing and devout — is the goal, the requirement to enter the Kingdom of God. If we are not, it will be “like passing through fire.” Furthermore, we will not enter Heaven by aiming for Purgatory. We will only enter even Purgatory — the shower room for the eternal pool party with God — by aiming for Heaven. By Christian doctrine, we know that this kind of greatness happens as a gift of grace, that which comes only by Christ, the one mediator between God and man.

If it is possible for anyone outside the Church to nonetheless receive the grace of God — which it surely is if God freely gives and men freely accept such a gift, and Christians are not in the habit of limiting God in His omnipotence — it is not the ordinary means of receiving grace. It is, in an illustrative word, extraordinary.

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Augustine’s modernity

In Pursue Truth on July 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

Reading for the first time St. Augustine’s Confessions, I come to the startling realization that, despite the tack of modern secularists to reject all knowledge before Descartes — and even then to regard Descartes as something of a funny-smelling befuddled grandfather — people knew things back then anyway, and true things. In the first hundred pages of Confessions we have a forceful denunciation of throwing our lives away on a circus of sophistries, a sharp understanding of what moderns call early childhood development, and a keen insight into the chalk today’s Manichees falsely offer in the name of real food. Replace his contemporaries’ artifice with ours and we at each point have a strong portrait of the human condition today. Demonstrably eternal is the condition of man, and demonstrably great are those who break that cycle.

Augustine was a dramatic influence on fellow Doctor of the Church Thomas Aquinas.

Augustine’s early life is piercingly familiar, and he rings true on so many levels and in so many ways. Speaking from my life, it wasn’t long after hanging around adults that I realized what some call quirks and others vices are no less an influence upon us when we turn 18 years old than they were a decade earlier. In reading this book I found only the latest of many fine examples of occasions when after believing to have finally thought something both true and original I find this prized thought of mine was not only unoriginal but better understood in the fourth century.
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Look at the Body of Christ

In Lay Meditations on July 16, 2011 at 5:38 am

Pauline language which indicates believers are the Body of Christ only reaches its full meaning not when we represent it in abstractions and platitudes, but when we consider what the body of Christ looks like. Not on the boat or on the Mount or even before Pilate — but on the cross. Remember also: Even after the resurrection, Christ retains his wounds. And who put the wounds there? We did, by each of our sins.

Contrast this with a Google Image search for "Body of Christ."

If God allows our sins so that a greater good may come, it is only because that by the wounds of Christ doubting Thomas believes. And so we see even here the final evangelical mission of Christianity. We see even here the essential core of the truth that we are to proclaim truth not only among the pagans but especially those even worse off: the faithless, the disenfranchised, and all else who have repudiated their birthright in their brief, dark Sabbath.

We cannot merely kick the dust from our feet, or pass by on the other side, when the faith of our brother is stripped from him, when he falls among the adversary and so is beaten. We must first realize that just as the disciples felt between the apparent triumph of the adversary on Golgotha and moment they saw the real triumph of Christ, just so are unbelievers stuck in a brief, dark Sabbath in which they nonetheless see no end in sight. We must minister to him.

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