Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Does Religion Cause Warfare?

Atheist Communist China.

Jimmy Akin, Catholic apologist extraordinaire, published an interesting article yesterday on Catholic.com. In it he examines the oft-cited objection to religion that it is the major cause of violence, bloodshed, and countless wars in the world.

An excerpt,
Religion is a human universal, and historically there have been no atheist societies. It is thus impossible to argue that non-religious societies were less violent than religious ones. The officially atheist societies that arose in the Communist world in the twentieth century were not more peaceful than others. They warred, exported revolution, and killed tens of millions of people, including their own citizens. 
If religion predisposed people to violence, we should see this on the small scale, yet violent criminals don’t usually seem to be devout churchgoers.
You can read the whole thing over there: The Myth that Religion Causes War.

Allow me to add few additional thoughts:

 - The most destructive wars in human history have been waged by officially secular states for entirely secular reasons, to achieve exclusively secular goals. States such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Napoleonic France, Ancient Rome all come to mind. As do wars such as, The American Civil War, the two World Wars, etc. The West in the twentieth century (the most secular continent at it's most secular) killed more people in it's wars than all the wars up to that point combined.

- Most wars are caused not by religion but to advance economic interests. One thinks of the conquests that led to the British Empire, the conquests of ancient Persia, Japanese expansion in the twentieth century, and the Venetian Republic's creation of a Mediterranean Empire all serve as examples.

- Some wars have a religious motivation, but these are rather few in comparison to the overall number of wars. If the argument advanced by atheists was true, religion would have to be responsible for most (or at least a majority) of the wars in human history. This simply isn't the case.

- Many of the wars supposedly caused by religious differences, on further examination, were primarily caused by the advancement of political, economic, or national interests. One needs only think of the most obviously religious wars (the Crusades and the wars of religion in the sixteenth century) to see this. For example, the Crusaders sacked and conquered Christian Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and during the wars of religion, Catholic France oppose the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. These battles between co-religionists during "religious" wars underline that other reasons trumped religious motivations even in the most explicit religious wars.

- Unlike the other major causes of warfare (economic interests and the establishment and expansion dominion over other peoples), religion provides examples of decreasing warfare. In the violent Middle Ages (Catholic on Catholic non-religiously motivated violence there as well), the Church (i.e. religion) banned certain weapons (e.g. the crossbow), banned attacks on non-combatants (The Peace of God), and banned warfare from being enacted during certain times and on Sundays (The Truce of God).

- Many world religions teach non-violence or limit the use of violence severely. Judaism has the fourth commandment (fifth if your using the Protestant numbering system), Christians have the teaching of Jesus to "turn the other cheek," Buddha taught "not to injure living beings is good," and Hinduism restricts all violence to resisting evil.

This "objection" to religion is, simply put, absurd. Whether you are an atheist or religious, we all ought to be able to call out a bad argument. It's the only intellectually honest thing to do and intellectual honesty is something atheists and theists alike should value.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Couldn't God have made Hell a nicer place?

Have you ever encountered someone who struggles with the doctrine of Hell? Many, both Catholic and non, do today. I encountered one such person over at the Catholic Answers Forums who posed the question in a particularly challenging way. He asked why God couldn't have been more merciful in creating an alternative to Heaven and compared Heaven to a tropical paradise where the blessed spend eternity with their loved ones and Hell to a Soviet prison. How would we respond to this line of questioning? One way I employ is to show the questioner that neither Heaven nor Hell is what he thinks it is. Heaven is not just an Earthly paradise spread out into eternity and Hell isn't Auschwitz to the nth degree. So what are they? Let's take a closer look.

Is this your idea of Heaven?

What is Heaven?
Ultimately, not "club med with loved ones" but being in the presence of God. Being with God.

What is God?
The source of all goodness, all light, all love, all hope, and eternal life

What is Hell?
Not being in Heaven.
But Heaven is being with God.
Therefore, Hell is not being with God.
But God is the source of all goodness, all light, all love, all hope and eternal life.
Therefore, being without God is being w/out all goodness, all light, all love, all hope, and eternal life
But Hell is being without God.
Therefore, Hell is being w/out all goodness, light, love, hope, and eternal life
Therefore, Hell is evil, dark, hateful, hopeless, and eternal death

Hell can't be anything less than what it is. It simply is the absence of God. It's not the difference between a Gulag and Club-Med. It's the difference between being with God and being without Him.


Gloria tibi, Domine!

Christ is really present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. At Mass we are transported away from our workaday world to the very foot of the Cross, to Calvary, to witness the offering of Christ of Himself to His Father in the Spirit. What was once mere bread and wine no longer exists. It is now The Lord - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, despite the remaining presence of the accidents, the appearances, of bread and wine. We all know this from second grade CCD class, but do we live it? Here are some practical ways we live this great mysterion in our family.

 At Mass

1) Do you ever wish you could have lived when Jesus walked the Earth? You do. But to meet Him you, much like those who met Jesus during His Earthly ministry, have to be willing to go where He is and that place is the Mass. Jesus Himself, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, He through whom all things were made (cf. John 1:3), including you, is really, truly, physically present at the Mass, just like He was when He taught on the Mount of the Beatitudes (cf. Matt 5), raised Lazarus from the dead (cf. John 11:43), restored sight to the blind man (cf. Mark 8), or celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples (cf. Luke 22). Would you have traveled to see Him then? Then travel to see Him this Sunday. Make your encounter with Christ the central event of your week, plan everything else around that. The best way to live the reality of meeting Jesus physically in the Eucharist at each Mass is pretty simple. Go to Mass

2) Only receive the Eucharist when you are free from all mortal sin. We know our venial sins are forgiven by receiving Christ at Mass in the Sacrament, but consuming His flesh and blood in a state of mortal sin increases our sin through an act of sacrilege. St. Paul tells us, "therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . For (he) eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:27, 29). If you commit a mortal sin, go to confession - meet Christ and receive His merciful love, then approach the altar.

3) Something I personally do, although this is not required of all Catholics (unlike numbers 1 and 2 above) is to receive Our Lord on the tongue, kneeling. I do this both at the forma extraordinaria (i.e. the so-called Traditional Latin Mass) and the forma ordinaria (i.e. the post Vatican II Mass), where I happen to be the only person to receive kneeling. This is a way to remind ourselves, and others at Mass, that this is truly the King of Kings and Lord of Lords we are receiving. It humbles us to kneel before him, to remind ourselves that we are nothing compared to Our God. Receiving on the tongue also forces us to recognize the uniqueness of receiving the Lord. This isn't regular food and the way we receive it should reflect, rather than obscure, that fact. What else do you eat by having someone place the food upon your tongue while on your knees? What else do you eat by putting it into your own mouth while standing? Again, this isn't required of Catholics, you're not a bad Catholic if you don't do it, but it helps me greatly to enter into the mystery of faith.

Padre Pio receiving Our Lord

4) Silence. Be quiet and pray to the Lord before and after receiving Him. Forget about singing along to the communion hymn and just be still in God's presence. I usually recite the Anima Christi before heading up to the altar and the Sucipe by St. Ignatius Loyola afterwards. Then I sit in silence or unburden myself to the Lord. That is assuming my kids are cooperating!

5) Related to number 3 is genuflecting before the tabernacle before you enter the pew at church. This is a way of paying homage to Christ's presence among us. Note, we neither genuflect (i.e. briefly kneel on our right knees) to the front of the church, nor to the altar, but to the tabernacle - wherever it might be placed.

Outside of Mass

1) Adoration. I don't get away to adoration as much as I'd like to, but it is a great way to extend what we do at Mass and to remind ourselves of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. Kneeling before the Lord in the monstrance provides the silent contemplation of this holy mystery that allows us to be better disposed to receive the graces He wants to give us when we receive Him at Mass. Remember this is Jesus and He is sitting right there waiting for you to just be with Him. Adoration is preparation for Heaven, only then we will see fully what now we only see dimly (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). What do I do at adoration? Pray. Sit. Just be in His presence. Being there with Him is what counts.

2) Gloria tibi, Domine! This is an easy one, but it is very important. I teach my kids to pray a short prayer, typically gloria tibi, Domine whenever we pass a Catholic Church. Why? Because every Catholic Church reserves the Eucharist in the tabernacle every day (except Good Friday and Holy Saturday). When you pass a Catholic Church you are walking right past The Lord. Act like it! Doing something as small as saying a few words recognizing His presence weaves the reality of the Sacrament into the fabric of your life.

Those are just a few ways to take the dogma of transubstantiation, something that seems so abstract and philosophical, and live it. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Can God Suffer?: How to Discuss God and Suffering like a Pro.

John: God is said to be "impassible," I think I understand what that means, but can you give a brief definition? I think I disagree with the teaching, but I want to be certain I understand it correctly.

Pius: Defining terms is always the best place to start. Divine impassibility is the doctrine that God does not suffer, indeed, cannot suffer.

John: That's what I thought. I'm not sure I can agree with it.

Pius: Doubt is always a good place to start when journeying towards the truth.

John: I'm a Christian. I find truth in the Scriptures. Is this doctrine taught by the Bible?

Pius: It isn't specifically mentioned in the Bible, but the conceptual framework that requires the doctrine is present. God is immutable, i.e. He doesn't change. If God doesn't change, then He doesn't change emotional states, and therefore God can't suffer - He is impassible.

John: How do we know God can't change? Isn't God able to do anything? If so, why wouldn't He be able to change? Doesn't saying "God is immutable" conflict with God's omnipotence?

Pius: How would you describe the omnipotence of God?

John: That's easy. God is all-powerful. There are no limits on what He can do.

Pius: Would it be fair to summarize and qualify you're position as "God can do all possible things" or are you uncomfortable with that? I want to make sure I'm understanding you before going on.

John: I'd simply say God can do all things. Why do we need the word "possible" added in?

Pius: Can God do impossible things?

John: There are no impossible things to God. That's what being "all-powerful" means.

Pius: All things, we'd agree, that are possible to do, God can do.

John: Yes, but to God that means all things, full stop.

Pius: Would you say God can "zing-ding a wall and blah-blah a bag?"

John:  I'm not sure I understand what that would mean?

Pius: I'm asking, does the sentence "God can zing-ding a wall and blah-blah a bag" make sense?

John: No, it's gibberish.

Pius: And God can't do "gibberish?"

John: Gibberish isn't a thing to do. It's not a lack of power in God, it is a lack of sense in the sentence  that makes it something that can't be done.

Pius: God can do all things, but what I said isn't a thing to done?

John: Yes.

Pius: Is it also gibberish to speak of logical contradictions?

John: I'm not sure. Can you provide an example?

Pius: Certainly. Would it make sense to say "God can make a circle with four sides?"

John: Clearly not. If it has four sides it isn't what we call a circle, it's what we call a square.

Pius: And that doesn't limit God's power?

John: Of course not. It's a confusion of words. God can turn a circle into a square, but it doesn't make sense for us to call a four sided object a circle. That's a problem of our language, not of God's power.

Pius: Precisely. It is like the gibberish we explored before.

John: Right.

Pius: What about the statement "God can make it bring as day and dark as night at the same moment in the same place at the same time"? Does that make sense or is it gibberish too?

John: God can make day night and night day.

Pius: Yes, but can He make it both at the same time in the same place?

John: Well...

Pius: Is that a confusion of terms, a confusion in our words?

John: Yes. It is like with the square and circle. God can make it night or day, but to say it is both bright and not bright is a failure in language. But what does any of this have to do with whether God can change? Surely, asking that isn't like confusing words.

Pius: Maybe, but I'm not so sure. Let's dig deeper and see if we can be sure of that. For now, I'm only asking whether adding "God can..." in front of nonsense - in front of a series of confused words - suddenly makes those words mean something.

John: Not at all. But that has to do with our ways of speaking and thinking not with God's power.

Pius: So logical contradictions, things that end up being nothing more than a confusion of words, are failures in our understanding and speech, not in God?

John: I don't see how anyone can conclude otherwise.

Pius: Going back to my clarification of your statement, "God can do all things" would you agree now that it is a better definition to say "God can do all possible things." Or better, "God can do all things that are doable things."

John: Yes, I see why you've added that in. Some "things" really aren't "things to do" but are just a series of confused ideas or words.

Pius: Right. Now we are discussing whether God can be happy now and suffer later.

John: Yes, let's get back on track.

Pius: I'm not sure we have been off-track. Would you agree that God being happy now and then suffering later is a change?

John: Clearly it is.

Pius: And the doctrine of Divine Immutability says God cannot change?

John: That is what it says, but I'm not sure how we can agree with that. It is a limit to God's power to say He can't change. That isn't a confusion of words. Changing is a doable thing. You can't disagree with that?

Pius: Change it certainly a "doable thing" for us. Is it for God?

John: I don't see how it can't be. If we can do it, surely God can too. Otherwise, He is less powerful than we are! If He's less powerful than you or me, then He isn't God at all.

Pius: Agreed. If God is less powerful than you or me, He isn't God.

John: Then God can change and if He can change why shouldn't He be able to have emotions?

Pius: I think we might be moving too fast here. Let's explore whether God can change a little more before moving on. Is God perfect?

John: Of course, He is. If He isn't it's not God we're talking about.

Pius: If God is perfect would a change make Him more perfect?

John: No. God is perfect, there is no such thing as "more perfect." If you can be "more perfect" then you aren't perfect, just really good. You're back to spewing gibberish. I'm afraid we aren't getting anywhere.

Pius: So saying God can be "more perfect" is gibberish?

John: Yes.

Pius: Can God, then, become less perfect?

John: No. If God became less than perfect, He wouldn't be God anymore and that's absurd. More gibberish!

Pius: So God can neither become more perfect nor can He become less perfect. Can He become something else that is equally perfect?

John: No. Nothing can be "equally perfect." If you are perfect, you are perfect. There are no other perfections to add or you aren't perfect in the first place.

Pius: So God can't become more perfect, less perfect, nor add some new perfection to what He has already.

John: Exactly.

Pius: Then how can God change? Isn't all change either moving from two things of equal value, or moving from a better thing to a worse, or moving from something worse to something better?

John: Yes, I can't disagree with you there.

Pius: Then God, being perfect, can't change.

John: Okay.

Pius: That establishes God's immutability, then.

John: Yes.

Pius: And if God can't change, He also can't change emotional states.

John: That would seem to follow.

Pius: Is suffering now and not suffering later a change in an emotional state?

John: Yes.

Pius: And...

John: And so God can't suffer. Okay I get that. Doesn't it also mean that God is indifferent to us? If a baby is starving to death, He simply doesn't care? Isn't that the God of the Deists, the "Divine Clockmaker" instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Pius: The apostle who you are named from, how does he define God?

John: He says, "God is Love" (1 John 4:8).

Pius: Is love indifferent?

John: No, not at all. That's precisely my objection to what we've said about God. It seems to refute the Biblical God.

Pius: Can God love us, without changing? Does love necessitate change?

John: Not at all. God loves us without change. He always loves us, loves us unconditionally.

Pius: Then God can both love us and be unchanging, the two aren't contradictions, we aren't speaking in gibberish?

John: Right.

Pius: Then it doesn't follow that God is indifferent, that God is a "clockmaker" who leaves His creation on its own without a care.

John: I see that.

Pius: God loves us, but we can't blackmail Him. We can't make Him suffer. He is always joyful. Is that fair to say?

John: Yes, but He loves us and thus can love us to the point of sending His Son to die for us. Surely, the death of Jesus (who is God) suggests that God can suffer after all. How does this square with what we've been saying? It seems we've proved that God doesn't suffer, but in the process have disproved Christianity, the religion that specifically teaches that God did suffer!

Pius: Well, that's certainly possible.

John: So we should leave off Christianity?

Pius: Not necessarily, we've not proven that yet, but it is possible.

John: Well, let us go on then. I'm a firm Christian, but I won't continue to be if we find it false.

Pius:  You're a true philosopher, John. I'm with you, if we can't square what we know to be true - that God can't suffer - with what as Christians we believe - that Jesus is God and did suffer - we ought to seriously reconsider our Christianity. Let's review our premises. Christians believe Jesus is...

John: God.

Pius: And Jesus suffered?

John: Clearly. In fact, according to Christianity, He suffered more than anyone else ever has or ever could. That is the contradiction. Is Christianity gibberish?

Pius: Perhaps. Why would Jesus suffer?

John: He descended from Heaven to become a man to save men from sin.

Pius: Jesus is both man and God.

John: That belief pretty much defines who is and who isn't a Christian.

Pius: Jesus had two natures, one Divine and another human. One person, two natures. That is the teaching of Christianity, correct?

John: It is.

Pius: Can men suffer?

John: I can attest to that from personal experience, as I'm sure you can!

Pius: And Jesus was a man?

John: Man and God.

Pius: But still a man? He has a complete human nature. He became fully human. He became a man. Correct?

John: Yes.

Pius: Then Jesus can suffer as a man, in His human nature, while, in His divine nature, He remained impassible, that is logically possible? That isn't gibberish?

John: That is logically a possibility.

Pius: Then there is no logical contraception in saying that Jesus suffered and yet Jesus is God (and man).

John: That makes sense.

Pius: Did God the Father and God the Holy Spirit also become men?

John: Not according to Christian teaching, no.

Pius: Do Christians believe they suffered?

John: No, only Jesus suffered and only Jesus died on the Cross.

Pius: Then Christianity doesn't contradict Divine Impassability after all.

John: It doesn't. Unfortunately, I've got to get on to work. Thanks for an interesting conversation!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How Can God Be Three, But One? Can't Christians Do Math?

Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant statesman, author, and lover of architecture and natural science, once made the comment that belief in a being who is both 3 and 1 is simply ridiculous and thus ought to be dismissed as a relic of a superstitious past. He said, 
The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus with one body and three heads had it's birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.... In fact the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one is so incomprehensible to the human mind that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea. He who thinks he does only decieves himself.1

Which shows that Jefferson, brilliant in so many ways, was a horrible theologian.2 However, his question remains a good one. How can anyone be so insipid to believe 3 = 1? This used to be one of the major objections I myself hurled at Christianity. In fact, being a lover of American history that I am, I used to use this passage from Jefferson to show the ludicrousness of it all. It seemed obvious enough, indeed (to use another set of Jeffersonian words) it seemed like a truth to be held as self-evident that three is in no way one nor is one, three. And that should be that for the Christian God.

But thinking on the matter a bit longer makes one realize that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is neither so simple nor so easily refuted as Jefferson (and my younger self) so confidently thought it was. Christians, I later learned, do not believe in one God who is three Gods. They believe in one God who is three persons. Of course, something can be one in one way and three in another way, that's no contradiction. I can be one person, yet hold three jobs, for example. It turned out, Christians could do basic math after all.

But what would this God be like? Was Jefferson still right when he said no human mind could comprehend the Trinity? Not exactly. First, Jefferson has confused being able to "comprehend" something with being able to imagine it. We can't quite imagine a three personal God, but we can, at least begin, to comprehend Him.

Frank Sheed, in his classic, Theology and Sanity, gives a great summary of the problem of confusing imagination with comprehension,
The first difficulty in the way of the intellect's functioning well is that it hates to function at all, at any rate beyond the point where functioning begins to require effort. The result is that when any matter arises which is properly the job of the intellect, then either nothing gets done at all, or else the imagination leaps in and does it instead.... Consider what imagination is. It is the power we have of making mental pictures of the material universe. What our senses have experienced... can be reproduced by the imagination.... What the senses cannot experience, the imagination cannot make pictures of.... To say that something is unimaginable is merely to say that the imagination cannot make a picture of it. But pictures are only of the material world; and to that imagination is limited. Naturally it cannot form pictures of spiritual realities, angels, or human souls, or love or justice.... To complain that a spiritual thing is unimaginable would be like complaining that the air is invisible....Thus the reality of any spiritual statement must be tested by the intellect, not by the imagination. The intellect's word of rejection is "inconceivable."This means that the statement proffered to the intellect contains a contradiction within itself, so that no concept can be formed embodying the statement. A four-sided triangle, for instance, is inconceivable.... Thus the first test of any statement concerning spiritual reality is not can imagination from a mental picture of it, but does it stand up to the examination of the intellect, do the terms contradict each other.3
Something similar happens in science. We all, no doubt, can remember being taught about molecules in high school science class with styrofoam balls and tooth picks. This was a learning tool designed to help us imagine molecules, but - the scientists remind us - molecules don't actually look like that. Scientists don't believe in a bunch of balls and sticks when they speak about molecules, rather they believe in the mathematical formulae that are merely represented by the foam ball models. The scientist can comprehend molecules without needing to or even being able to imagine them.

molecule model

When Jefferson says the Trinity is "incomprehensible" he really means it is "unimaginable," which, of course, it is. That shouldn't surprise Jefferson however, nor should it undermine our Faith in a Triune God. In fact, it should bolster it. A "make believe" God would be an imaginable God, like the pagan gods of old. He would have an elephant's head or look like a perfect man or be presented in some other easily imagined way. Any such simplified version of God, should all be immediately suspect as possible human inventions. We'd expect the real God to be unimaginable precisely because He isn't a part of the material universe. We can't sense Him, therefore we shouldn't be able to imagine Him either.

All images of the Trinity must therefore fail. Apples, shamrocks, "another Cerberus with one body and three heads," all must be rejected out of hand as trying to imagine the unimaginable. We instead can only have the idea and, if it helps, a "model" much like the one used to teach non-scientists about molecules,

Trinity Explanation

 If you still need help understanding the doctrine (not imagining it), C.S. Lewis might help,
You know that in space you can move in three ways - to the left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down.... They are called the three Dimensions.... If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four lines. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say a cube... And a cube is made up of six squares.4
Each dimension, therefore builds off the previous ones. But, at the same time, if you or I were trapped in a two dimensional world (say we were cartoon characters) we couldn't even imagine a cube. We'd simply have no experience of such an object, no experience, in fact, of "solidity" at all. Thus, by definition we could never have a physical experience of such an object or, therefore, an image of one.

Lewis continues,
the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings - just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God's dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.5
Is it "complicated?" Yes, it is. But so is reality. Right now I'm sitting at a computer writing this blog post. That seems like a simple enough activity. But bring in a computer scientist to describe, in detail, all the various complex procedures and programs that my computer is running to write this, or all the more complex processes that lead to it being able to be published online and read by people around the world and it gets a bit more "complicated." Let the computer scientist be joined by a neuroscientist to tell us all about the electric discharges my brain makes use of to move my hands to type the words that express my thoughts (let alone all the unconscious mental processes that it simultaneously is performing to keep me alive) and we've got greater complexity still. Add a physicist to tell us how my body and computer are both managing to stay put on the Earth while I speed 67,000 mph around the center of the solar system and an electrical engineer to add his two cents in on how the computer is being powered and we've reach a level of maddening complexity. Should we, then, really expect the inner life of the All High God, the God who created this complex world, to be so very simple to understand? Shouldn't we rather expect religion, if it be true, to be one of the most complex subjects and the doctrine of the being of God to be the most complex of it's doctrines?

Saint Augustine

One of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity, St. Augustine of Hippo, spent more than three decades writing one of the greatest books on our subject, De Trinitate (On the Trinity). While writing it he had a very famous dream in which he encountered a small boy on the beach carrying water in a seashell from the sea and pouring it into a hole in the beach. The great saint asked the child what he was about. "Transferring all the water from the sea into this small hole." "Why that is impossible my boy." "As is what you are trying to do in your book." Tradition holds that this was a angel sent by God to remind the great saint that some mysteries are too much for the human mind to ever fully understand. In fact, a good test as to whether your idea of God is "made up" or not is this "seashell test." If you fully understand it, it isn't God.

That shouldn't reduce us to intellectual impotence or indifference. We can understand the Trinity, we can gain some light from the doctrine, but we shouldn't be surprised when our finite minds can't entirely contain the inner life of a "supra-personal" God. We shouldn't be surprised when imagination fails and the intellect can only begin to comprehend the mystery6. Rather we ought take comfort in knowing that we haven't made God in our image and likeness (despite our imagination's continual demands to reform Him so). Rather, He is something entirely unexpected.

Recommended Reading: (purchase through the link to support the blog at no cost to yourself!)

1. Jefferson, Thomas, Letter to James Smith 12/8/1822 (he must have been in the Christmas spirit)
2. The tradition of people, learned in subjects other than theology, thinking themselves master of this subject too is long and sad. People with little skill or training in religion or theology find themselves well qualified to speak on theology in a way no one would with any other discipline. Being a great statesman, like Jefferson, clearly doesn't make someone ipso facto a theologian. Such should be a lesson to biologists (Dawkins), physicists (Hawking), journalists (Hitchens), astronomers (Sagan), and others. Just as being a great biblical exegete or Thomistic philosopher wouldn't qualify one as an expert on human anatomy or neuroscience, so too being learned in other fields doesn't qualify oneself as an authority on philosophy, theology, or Biblical exegesis.
3. Sheed, Frank, Theology and Sanity, pgs. 31-36
4. Lewis, CS, Mere Christianity, pg 161
5. Lewis, CS, Mere Christianity, pg 162
6. In Christian theology the word "mystery" is used in a very different sense than it is in the secular world. Here we are not speaking of something Sherlock Holmes would "solve." It isn't a puzzle. Nor are we speaking of something that we simply have to accept without being able to understand anything at all about it. A "mystery" isn't a Christian way of "copping out" on having to be reasonable. A "mystery" in the sense we are using it here is simply something that has a dimension greater than what we know. It is something that goes beyond being entirely understood by the intellect, although it can be understood to a degree. For a great, short look at what Christians mean by "mystery" I highly recommend this post by Mgsr. Charles Pope: Mystery is Deep and Yet Vertical - A Brief Meditation on the Christian Meaning of Mystery.

Monday, September 26, 2016

32 Books That Will Take You Deeper into Dante's Comedy

As longtime readers of the blog are aware, I'm a huge fan, student and teacher, of the great Dante Alighieri (I blogged my way through most of Inferno, check it out if you missed it - and yes, I plan on finishing posting the rest of Inferno at some point). I have read his masterpiece well over a half dozen times and his letters and minor works each at least once.

I've just finished teaching The Divine Comedy at a parish in the south and thought I'd share my "suggested reading" list here with my blog readers. The books under each heading are listed in order, from easiest to hardest. For the beginning student in any of these topics, I recommend reading just the first one (or two) choices. If you are more advanced, feel free to dive into the harder choices.

Each title is also a link to purchase the book online at Amazon.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Election Season Advice from CS Lewis

Here's a sample of my latest article for Catholic365.

Voting season is in full swing.
We have already been subjected to, from one party, a nativism that extolls love of country and, from the other, a globalism that despises it. What attitude should a Catholic agree with?
Should we believe that patriotism is a great good, a great evil, or something else entirely?
Is preserving the distinctions of our own nation, of our own culture, something to aspire to or something to avoid?
Our 'globalists' (those on the left on this issue) seek what they term 'cultural diversity.'
What does that mean? 
Read the rest at Catholic365: C.S. Lewis on Patriotism