Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Think...Therefore I Do

I’ve been speaking at a few parishes within my home diocese of Joliet, IL about my new book, Faith with Good Reason. During the talks, a general theme has come up which is quite simple in concept, but perhaps sometimes forgotten; it’s the fact that what we think ultimately directs what we do.

Many might be familiar with the tragic philosophy that says, “I think, therefore I am”. This makes the reality of our being dependent upon our thinking; it also bodes very well for a narcissistic society. With this as a base premise, one could see how believing in “yourself” is the most important thing in the universe to believe in. It also explains how bad things can happen in democracies in which the souls of the citizens are ruled by their own desires.

St. Augustine said something that sounds similar, but might as well come from the other side of the universe; “I believe, therefore I speak.”1 Perhaps St. Augustine got this from St. Paul who wrote, “Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we too believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13). Both saints would acknowledge that their ability to proclaim Truth ultimately comes from something outside of themselves…and that something is what we call “God”.

If God is Truth itself, then “I think, therefore I do” may be more accurate words to live by if put in the context of the human soul. Our intellect thinks and our will does. Our will reaches for what our intellect has understood.
Consider the importance of “thinking & doing” in the following non-theological example: 2

  • A World Series bat and ball signed by some famous Chicago Cubs costs $1500.
  • The bat costs $1000 more than the ball.
  • How much does the ball cost?
Let’s go forward with the thinking that says the ball must be $500. Now suppose an individual offers you the same ball for $400 and you think, “Good deal! I can save a hundred bucks!” If you were to pay the $400 you would actually be losing $150 because the ball is only $250!

Breaking the problem down step-by-step, we can see the reality:
                    The bat and ball cost $1500:      Bat + Ball = $1500
  The bat costs $1000 more than the ball:      Bat = Ball + $1000
     We now express the problem like this:      (Ball + $1000) + Ball = $1500
                How much does the ball cost?:      ($250 + $1000) + $250 = $1500

So the ball is $250 and the bat is $1250 for a grand total of $1500. Why is this important? Because what we think directs what we do. If we are thinking wrongly (like thinking the ball is $500), then we will be doing wrongly (like taking a bad deal).
Some of this logic can spill over into the notion of “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”. This is an important idea because we know we can separate an inclination we have from what we do about it. I am a sinner, but it is not necessary that I sin. To internalize this and make it real I need to understand what sin is and why it’s bad for me. If I were an alcoholic it would not be necessary that I drink, but again, to internalize this and make it real I would need to understand what alcohol is and why it’s bad for me. Loving the sinner, but hating the sin also frees us to love our enemies, since we are able to separate the two.

But what if we go forward with the thinking that says…
  1. Who we are is what we do
  2. Our inclinations define who we are
If this is true, then our actions are as integral to who we are as our skin color or our gender. With this mentality it’s easy to see why those who dissent from Catholic teaching in areas of human sexually (the topic of almost all dissent) might hate the phrase “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”.

For example, if some are inclined toward same-sex attraction, that’s who they are—and who they are and what they do cannot be separated, right? In other words, if you are gay, you should be gay. It’s an immutable fact. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are! Furthermore, if anyone hates what you are doing, they must also hate you personally since the two naturally go together. By the way, the exact same thinking can apply to opposite-sex attraction in the context of fornication. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are.

If we are thinking wrongly, then we will be doing wrongly! If God is Truth, then objective Truth should be the object of our intellect, which will in turn direct the will. If love is an act of the will, then to love or discern something we need to know it. The primacy of the intellect is important in order to act and love properly.

“The origin of all deviant practice is deviant thought. The knowing why it is deviant is a function of mind based on a standard of reason. It is the steady ‘knowing why’ that, before anything else, we are missing.” 3

  1. Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Barns & Noble Books, 2007), p. 5.
  2. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), p. 44.
  3. James V. Schall, S.J., Catholic World Report [Website], “Catholics and the Present Confusion”, (9 January 2017), Site address: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/5337/catholics_and_the_present_confusion.aspx

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

What should have primacy in our lives?
  • Secular knowledge or spiritual knowledge?
  • Science or Faith?
  • A magnetic compass or the Moral Compass?
  • Philosophy or Theology?

All are important to be sure, but consider this…
. . . one could live very well without philosophy or without knowing that the earth revolves around the sun. Man cannot live, however, without moral certainties, without being able to form sure judgments about the behavior of others toward him.1

  1. Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997) p. 19.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What's More Romantic Than Geometry?

My high school freshmen son had to write something for Valentine's Day as an assignment for Geometry class. Deserves an "A"...Don't ya think?!?

A Geometric Love Poem...

Without you my life would be like a circle, pointless. My love for you is like the length of a line, endless. Describing my love for you is like when one tries to draw a point in real life, it's impossible. This love has no need to be proven like a theorem; it's like a postulate, with no dispute.

It is as if we are made for each other because we’re congruent in every way. We must have two congruent angles because I see how similar we are everyday.

You and I must have two supplementary angles because when I see you I do a one eighty and head straight for you. Were you fifty degrees today? I thought that you were acute-y as my heart flew.

And so I’m afraid I must interject; how I wish we weren't so parallel and could instead intersect.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Passion, Politics and the Existence of God

Could the current political climate in this country be used as evidence for the existence of God? Could we take the recent Women’s March and the Right to life March, which both happened within a week of each other, and point to something transcendent? How about President Trump’s executive order on immigration and all the subsequent protests happening right now? Is there a path to God in such a mess? I think there is and I’m reminded of portions of a book called Jacobs Ladder: 10 Steps to Truth by Dr. Peter Kreeft and excerpts from my own book called Faith with Good Reason. Whether talking politics or religion it all starts with “passion”.

Of Passion...
There is no doubt that one side of the political aisle can see the passion of the other side. What the opposition is passionate about may be called wrong, misguided or even evil, but the observable effects of their passion remains factual nonetheless. Humans get passionate about things and I think we all know the difference between true passion and just a passing interest. Many are passionate about proper ethics, morals or justice (the Good). Others have their passion in art, literature, music, dance, theater, athleticism or nature (the Beautiful). Still others have a passion for technology, science, math or discovery (the True). Many are willing to commit their entire lives to these kinds of things, even unto death. This is also how we know we are different than animals. Not even our closest animal relatives show evidence for having a true passion for “the Good”, “the Beautiful” and “the True”. But passion alone can ignite anything it touches. It’s like blind power. I’m sure Osama bin Laden had passion for his cause.

Of Truth...
If you are truly passionate about a cause, it’s not a big step to accepting objective truth as something that is real. Holding truths to be self-evident, as the founders of this nation wrote, is different than a personal belief or opinion. If you are truly passionate about a woman’s universal right to choose or a baby’s universal right to live, you will not accept relativistic terms like “it’s just true for me” or “it’s only opinion”. If you are passionate about how much you love or hate President Trump's executive order on immigration, you will not think of it the way you might think of loving or hating chocolate ice cream.

Of Meaning...
Meaning is next. Once we consent to the existence of at least some objective truth, the acceptance of some real meaning or purpose behind it all is not a far leap either. All people desire lasting happiness and the truths that we hold are meant to lead us to happiness. We use our heads and our hearts in the pursuit of that happiness.

Of Love...
So what is the meaning of life, which will bring us lasting happiness? If we are only physical beings, then only physical things are needed to keep us happy. Outward abundance and physical pleasure should satisfy us fully and bring lasting happiness, but they don’t. We seek more; we seek love; and love is not the same as “good feelings”. If it were, we could say that taking drugs, which result in good feelings, is what true love is all about. So what kind of love are we looking for? It’s unconditional, unselfish and sacrificial love. This kind of love involves more than feelings. It requires willing the good of others, so it requires an act of the will or a choice. So love is an act of the will and can bring lasting happiness to everyone and is thus the meaning of life.

Of Laws...
Humans live in organized societies, which are guided according to certain principles, and those principles are reflected in the laws.Good laws would support and be consistent with what is good for human beings and the "Natural Law" of love. Bad laws would undermine love and thus be unnatural. Of course, without God’s Grace and with our own fallen nature the meaning of "love" and “good” are too easily confused. What some call good is actually bad and what some call bad is actually good; up becomes down and down is up.

"The peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself"
– G.K. Chesterton

But even with the chaos and muddled-thinking it all points to something…

Of God...
If there is sunlight, there must be a sun. If there is electricity, there must be a generator. If love is from the will and is the meaning of life, there must be a first “willer”. If one has accepted even some objective truth or morals, then there must be a source for it. If there is a natural or moral law that transcends human opinion, there must be a “first cause” for it or a moral law-giver. A loving moral law-giver reasonably implies something with intelligence and “intent” and one would do well to ponder what a curious thing that would be. Nothing in this post definitively proves what Catholic theology would say about God, but to say that the truths we hold as self-evident are only a delusion is wishful thinking for those who wish to avoid the reality of the human condition and its passion.

“Man does not explain himself to himself without the odd suspicion that he is missing something.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Proof of the Human Soul?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the human soul is the innermost aspect of man and the spiritual principle that separates from the body after death. The body then decays and the soul goes to meet God (CCC #363, #997). But is it possible to prove that the human soul exists?

Whenever someone asks for proof of something, especially something immaterial, I sometimes ask if it is possible to prove anything at all. This is not to be flippant; it’s a serious question.

Suppose you were told that last night while you slept your brain was taken by aliens and installed into an alien supercomputer. This supercomputer is now inputting all the correct electrochemical impulses into your brain to precisely simulate the world you are familiar with. You think you are reading a blog post right now, but it is actually the alien computer inputting the data directly into your brain—similar to the concept in the 1999 movie “The Matrix”. This might sound absurd, but you would simply have no way of proving that this artificial reality is false. If all the data you have is only virtual data being continuously streamed into your brain, you would have no outside system to use as a relevant basis of comparison.

For a less fantastic example involving “proof”, consider our criminal justice system. Have you ever been a juror in a criminal trial? I have; it was quite a rigorous exercise in reason with a bunch of perfect strangers—and it went on for two days. Proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt gets rather contentious when all twelve jurors cannot agree on when the threshold for a “reasonable doubt” has been achieved. It seems to me that when people try hard enough, they can always find a doubt that is reasonable…at least to them.

Here’s another case in point; suppose you and I see a cat running across the street. We agree that it was indeed a cat and we go forward with that premise. There is no doubt that we saw a cat; it is an unquestioned fact. We later receive more data that informs us that it was actually a funny looking raccoon. This is not so different from observations used in science. Once something is “proven” is the science settled forever? No; not if more data is found to question the previous thinking. Consider that Isaac Newton and centuries of Aristotelian logic held to the assertion that our universe and past time were infinite. Today many accept the premise that time/space had a starting point or Big Bang.1

There are many such examples about “proof” and I was reminded of these when discussing near-death experiences (NDEs) with someone as evidence for the human soul. Of all the unanswered questions in science, one of the biggest is “What is the biological basis of consciousness?” The hidden assumption in the question is (of course) that there must be a biological basis.

Consciousness can only be a product of a working brain; which is essentially a “meat computer” ultimately controlled by the universal and unchangeable laws of physics and chemistry. Therefore, NDEs must be manufactured in the brain. They are delusions produced by the brain under extreme duress, such as a lack of oxygen or being under the influence of powerful drugs administered during a medical emergency. Agreed?

For the strict materialist the paragraph above might be a satisfying answer, but like the example of the cat vs. raccoon, could there be more data to question the thinking behind NDEs and human consciousness? I believe I found such data in an article written by Fr. Robert Spitzer when I searched the Magis Center for Faith & Reason for NDEs.

Now, it is understandable to think that a priest writing something about NDEs could have a non-scientific and manipulative agenda about the afterlife, but the very opening paragraph shows the concern for scientific objectivity, “I cite the evidence of near-death experiences with some trepidation, because there are many books written on this subject which are not scientific…these nonscientific books have rather manipulative agendas, and some are quite cultic in character.”

The article goes on to summarizes three separate scientific studies on NDEs: The van Lommel et al Study, The Melvin Morse Study of Near-Death Experiences of Children and The Kenneth Ring, et al Study of Near-Death Experiences of the Blind. For me, the most interesting data that challenge the premise about consciousness being only a product of the brain are as follows:

Flat EEGs: People reported clear and lucid consciousness during the time in which there was no electrical activity in the brain cortex and no brain stem function either, evidenced by fixed dilated pupils and absence of the gag reflex. How can lucid conciseness continue when the brain is clinically dead?

Out of Body: People experienced an out-of-body state with sensorial capabilities. Out of body could even mean out of the room where they laid unconscious, going through walls, seeing things and hearing conversations which were later verified to be accurate. How does one experience this without a body, unless their consciousness is somehow “non-physical”?

Blind from Birth: Those blind from birth reported that they could see. If all our memories and knowledge are stored in our brain and our brain never received any visual inputs from our eyes, how does a blind person see during an NDE?

NDEs and Children: Wouldn’t it be foolish to believe a child? Maybe sometimes, but if you’ve spent time with children you know they can be very unbiased and matter-of-fact. Small children do not know what an NDE is and are not motivated by cultural or religious agendas, so how likely are they to purposely report data to help these agendas?

Low Percentage: Not everyone reports an NDE. In the van Lommel study only 18% reported an NDE, but 100% of them suffered a shortage of oxygen, were given morphine-like medications and were victims of severe stress. If an NDE is just a biological reflex of a dying brain, shouldn’t it be closer to 100%? If endorphins were suddenly and unexpectedly released into the brains of 100 people, wouldn’t about 100 of them report “good feelings”?

Do these objective aspects of subjective near-death experiences prove the existence of the human soul and the afterlife? Perhaps not, but beware of willful ignorance and having qualms with an agenda. As in the criminal trail example above, people are good at raising “reasonable doubts” for just about anything. Should consciousness without a physical brain be considered a real possibility? As with the most basic principles of reason, when many clues point in a certain direction, we do well to explore that direction seriously. In the grand scheme of reality these studies are additional data points (and there are many) that concur with the Catholic worldview.

1. Thomas E. Woods, How Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington D.C: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005), p. 91

Monday, December 19, 2016

Curious & Uplifiting

Perhaps many of us are pleased to hear religious Christmas music in all kinds of public areas and venues this time of year. Many are praising the Lord publicly, but perhaps we see it as a kind of empty praise with multitudes of earthly sinners crying out “Lord, Lord”, so to speak, deserving the response “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)

Hypocrisy notwithstanding, prayerful music accepted in public areas gives me hope for a future Christendom. My oldest son is now a freshman at a rather large public high school where he joined the choir; they had a concert a few months ago and the grand finally was the song "Praise His Holy Name". You should see the lyrics. Here is a sample...

“holy Jesus praise his name
oh hallejuah praise his holy name” (x4)
Read more:  Whispers - Praise His Holy Name Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

No one seemed offended and there was thunderous applause at the end. Remember this is a public school (nowhere near the Bible Belt)! I found it both curious and uplifting to see a secular musical ensemble shamelessly and loudly singing praises to Jesus, and all of it happening in a secular environment. To my knowledge, no one called the ACLU in protest.

Along the same vein, a few years ago that same son of mine was fortunate enough to have participated in the children’s choir for a presentation of the St. Nicholas Cantata written by Benjamin Britten (text by Eric Crozier).

Cantata means "sung" and is derived from the Italian word "cantare”; it’s a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir. This particular performance involved a full orchestra, adult choir, children’s choir and a tenor. This was not billed as a Christmas or Holiday concert and it was not sponsored by any church or other religious organization. It came from a state college/community music organization preforming in the theater of a private secular liberal arts college.

Here are some of the insightful music lyrics from the part of St. Nicholas; they read like biblical psalms. I don’t know if these are actual quotes from the saint, but I thought I’d share them nonetheless, since they seem as true today as they must have been in his time.

“Poor man! I found him solitary, racked
By doubt: born, bred, doomed to die
In everlasting fear of everlasting death:
The foolish toy of time, the darling of decay—
Hopeless, faithless, defying God.”

“O God! We are all weak sinful, foolish men.
We pray from fear and from necessity at death, in sickness or
private loss. Without the prick of fear our conscience sleeps,
forgetful of Thy Grace.
Help us, O God! to see more clearly.
Tame our stubborn hearts.
Teach us to ask for less and offer more in gratitude to Thee.
Pity our simplicity, for we are truly pitiable in Thy sight.”

If all this wasn’t remarkable enough for a secular event, the audience was encouraged to sing along with the following hymn…and they did so gladly!

“All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!
Him serve with fear
His praise forth tell,
come ye before Him and rejoice.

O enter then His gates with praise
Approach with joy His courts unto,
Praise, laud and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good:
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure. Amen.”

Enjoy the holiday music while it lasts and wherever it comes from; try not to dwell on any hypocrisy you come across along the way...and Merry Christmas from “all of us” at Two Catholic Men and a Blog!
Wise bloggers still seek Him!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why is the Dog Happier???

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”1, so when a thing lacks a perfection it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as an evil. When something is just how it ought to be we call this “good”.

The dog is happy living in the present moment, just being with “the pack”, even if the pack consists of only the dog and his master. This is “perfection” for the mind of a dog. The human is besieged with worldly thoughts; he is not content just being in the present moment. Being a child of God made in the image and likeness of God does not satisfy, even if this “Good News” is made clear to him as a Christian. The intellect dimmed by original and personal sin is obsessed with earthly thoughts and is easily distracted from the source of true happiness. This is an evil or a “privation of perfection” for the human mind.

We could speak of our lives in terms of two aspects, secular and spiritual. Our secular side refers to all the practical and worldly things we deal with and learn about to help us function in our communities, homes, and jobs. We need to pay attention to secular things. The spiritual side is about the Good, the Beautiful and the True and the meaning behind it all. If we get these last things right, the rest of life falls into place. Our spiritual life needs to be foremost in our mind.

Where do your idle thoughts go? What would happen if you put God at the absolute center of your thoughts? What we think ultimately translates to what we do. Since the intellect informs the will, we would end up doing the will of God. We would experience peace, become centered and "detached". Our spinning mind would no longer control us; no longer exhaust us.

In the end only one thing is necessary. It is the “one thing” spoken of at the house of Mary & Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Martha might think that she or Mary could love God above all other things and at the same time be constantly preoccupied with worldly things, but Jesus made it clear that she could not do both perfectly; imperfectly she could, but not perfectly.

It is the nature of the secular life to begin and end in our lifetime. Not so, however, of the spiritual life; it begins in this life, but lasts without end. The best is truly yet to come. As the Lord said to Martha, it is the part that shall never be taken away; because that perfect moment of being which can begin for us here will last without end in heaven.

“God wants us to live in the moment because we can only sanctify the present moment. We can’t change the past or control the future. The chance to do good or bad resides in the right here, right now.”2

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2002), p. 125.
  2. Karee Santos and Manuel Santos, The Four Keys To Everlasting Love (Ave Maria Press, 2016), e-book, p. 15.