Author Archives: Augustinus Augustinus

What should you dedicate your life to?

By Augustinus

First of all, must we dedicate our lives to anything at all? The answer is yes in my view. Though I agree that there is no requirement that you dedicate your life to something, and I absolutely agree that it is true that fundamentally you owe nothing to no-one, I find it is just boring and pleasure-less to be dedicated to nothing at all.

But then what should you dedicate your life to?

1)      Family?

God put some human beings into my care….my spouse and my children and to some extent other relatives. Therefore, my first moral obligation in life is to ensure their well-being. Add to this moral obligation the bonds of love and it is clear that for any real man, family must hold a, or the primary place in that man’s life and efforts. BUT, is it what your life should be dedicated to? In my view the answer must be no. Surely if you make your family your life’s purpose you do them a dis-service because you are not yet fully a man. To be a fully realized man you need to realize your life’s purpose; whatever it is that you dedicate your life to.

 

2)      Race and ethnicity?

Your race and ethnicity is part of who you are. If you dis-own these things you dis-own your Self and therefore you dishonor God who created you. I recently had my DNA analyzed and discovered I am 99.8 or 9% northern European. Basically all of my genes come from Ireland. My Irish genes were also apparently derived in large part from the hunter-gatherers who peopled the island long before the arrival of the Indo-European farmers and Celts. I also have one of the highest percentages of Neanderthal genes reported on the 23andme genetics site. Again Neanderthals were primarily a Northern European people centered in the Iberian peninsula, France and of course the British isles. That’s means that my ancestry going back over 50,000 years centers on Europe—especially the Iberian, French and Irish landmass. Within Ireland my people apparently lived within central/coastal Ireland for over 2000 years in regions that are now known as County Clare and Galway. There are reliable genealogies concerning the Clan my grandparents came from going back over a thousand years—all centered on the coastlines of Clare and Galway. I have ancestors who fought with the great Irish king Brian Boru and there are castles, Abbys and churches within Clare and Galway that my ancestors built and that bear tombs with the names of some of my ancestors dating back over 600 years.

It is clear that one should reverence one’s ancestors. “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.”  Politically everyone favors their own kind and that is as it should be. But should you dedicate your life to your clan, ethnic group or race? I reckon not. While you owe your clan your political blood, sweat and tears, you do not owe your clan your life…and you would be no real good to the clan if you did not realize your life’s purpose as you would be no real man.

 

3)      Sex and love?

Most people dedicate their lives to sex, romance and love. It works for a while but if you have a feel for real manhood you soon realize it cannot be what you dedicate your life to. Sex is more fun when you need it less and love only works with two independent, NOT dependent people. you become a fully mature, INDEPENDENT man when you realize your life purpose.

 

4)      Money and Power?

Money and power are goals worthy of a real man but if you are going to be able to use them wisely they cannot be your masters. Therefore they are not candidates for your life’s purpose. Your life’s purpose is the thing that drives you and in that sense is your master. It comes first before everything else. A real man makes money and power serve his life purpose-not the other way round.

 

5)       God?

To the religious person we owe God everything, therefore we should and must dedicate our lives to God. But in my view, that cannot be the case for a Christian. Christianity is not a religion and teaches that God intended and succeeded in creating ontologically independent entities; i.e. Persons, beings who could stand apart from God and therefore be really free. “Persons”, although creatures, are nonetheless ontologically real entities and are therefore free. We are free to choose or to reject friendship with God. We have the capacity to choose God out of love-not dependency and necessity. Therefore, God does not want us to be indebted to him. Jesus said “I call you friends, not servants.” And yet most so-called Christians continue to insist on being servile, dependent servants to God. In the end they do God a dis-service and wind up being merely religious persons—not Christians.

 

6)      Church?

Because the Church is Christ’s real presence on Earth it demands and deserves service from us. Nevertheless, although the Catholic Church is indeed the mystical body of Christ we should not dedicate our lives to it. It needs friends not servants. We should put our energies into it only after our primary life’s purpose is satisfied.

 

7)      Charities and political ideals?

Many people lead very admirable lives making the world a better place to live in. I think of scientists in this regard…the scientist who devises an effective treatment that relieves the suffering of millions is a most admirable individual. But should you dedicate your life to alleviating the suffering or improving the lives of millions? No. You can and should put significant effort into making the world a better place for others but the best thing you can do for a suffering humanity is to realize your particular life purpose.

8) Art?

To the extent that your art expresses the idea your life is meant to manifest it is good but most people never attain to that kind of art. Most expressive forms of art are embarrassing revelations of the artists deranged fantasies. Once again you need to make art serve you-not the other way round.

 

We have now ruled out all of the usual suspects for one’s life purpose’s. We cannot and should not dedicate our lives to family, clan, charities, science, politics, church, art, money, power or even God. All of these surely have claims on our love, loyalty and efforts but none of them have an absolute claim on your life…while your life purpose DOES have an absolute claim on your life. This is the central message of Christianity as I understand it. What then is your life purpose?

Your life purpose is that idea or principle that your life and your life alone can manifest. Only YOU can realize it and it is your primary duty to do so. by doing so you will save your family, clan, church, art and become intimate friends with the infinite God.

 

 

The Pontifical Solemn Mass at the National Shrine in Washington DC April 28

By Augustinus

I attended this past Saturday (April 28) the Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington DC. It was a very moving and glorious event. It began with intense and very loud organ music that was a cross between horror- movie type organ music and traditional church music. It was simultaneously frightening and solemn-an apt beginning to the sacrifice of the mass. Very hard to describe but it was very beautiful. Its intensity made the opening procession of all who would serve at the altar all the more solemn and reverent. It was a long procession. It was lead by a Knight in full costume (looked like Knight of Columbus) followed by monks in full monkish outfits and robes, followed by priests of various kinds, then the choral group in robes who would sing the Gregorian chants during the mass, then the altar servers including altar boys and then came the priests who would serve Archbishop Sample who came last and would actually say the mass (in Latin of course).

Before the mass people in the pews (and the pews were filled) were treated to some very beautiful choral music. The acoustics in this magnificent basilica were amazing! Try to imagine feasting your eyes on the great art (statues, niches, stained glass, marble altars, etc etc) that populates the sanctuary and the soaring dome overhead all while listening to beautiful medieval/renaissance chants, motets, and other choral pieces sung by superb vocalists and choral groups. There was even a live brass ensemble that played quietly and reverently along with some of the pieces.

Then the mass started. Two choral groups of monks and others sat at opposite ends of the altar chanting back and forth to one another-almost like a call and response pattern…all the while the priests chanted the mass up at the altar…

Archbishop Sample (of Portland OR) gave a very fine sermon and talk on the need for the church to allow both forms of the mass….each does not make full sense without the other, he claimed.

The entire mass was a total aesthetic experience-a religious experience in the best sense of the term. The surrounding art, the music, the solemn passionate chanting of the Latin mass, the perfectly choreographed ritual gestures by the priests up at the altar; the incense, the beautiful robes they were all wearing, the intensity of the religious fervor of the people in the pwes….it was an unforgettable experience! I thank God (and Pope Benedict) that we have not yet lost this great treasure of the Latin West. We should also thank the Paulus Institute for organizing the whole event!

Communing with history

By Augustinus

This past week I took my ten year old daughter (who has an insatiable love of all things historical) to the national Archives in DC, Mount Vernon, Monticello, the Civil War Museum and Confederate White House in Richmond VA and the Valentine House down the street from the confederate White House. At the national archives we studied the actual original Declaration of Independence, the emancipation proclamation, the Bill of Rights and the magna carta. My daughter would ask questions like “Did King john actually touch that seal of office attached to the document?  Did Thomas Jefferson actually write every line on this document? Who was John Carroll?….” She LOVES history just like her Dad! At Mount Vernon we actually ran into Vice President Mike Pence who happened to be having a meeting there that day! We have pics of him just 3 feet away from us! I told her that I admire Pence but she had heard negative things about him from liberal feminist fanatics (her teachers) who object to his rule of never meeting with a unfamiliar women alone. Most of the sane world actually admires Pence for his very wise rule–especially given the moral panic let loose on the world after the Weinstein scandal. When my daughter and I toured Monticello and entered a room with a small bed in an alcove the guide told us that that is the actual bed that Jefferson died in. My daughter’s eyes filled with excitement and tears. Jefferson died just hours apart from his friend John Adams both of whom were original signers of the declaration. They were also (2nd and third) presidents of the country they gave birth to. They each died 50 years to the day after they composed and signed that declaration of independence. My daughter said that I was just like Jefferson in that I “could not live without books”! In Richmond the civil war museum contained the still blood stained flags of the rebel regiments that fought in all those famous battles. We say the tent and cot and  that Robert E Lee slept in for most of the war as well as his simple military and travel kit. My favorite was examining the military kit and the sword and the saddle of J.E.B Stuart one of my heroes! My daughter was amazed at the Jefferson Davis office in the White House. She asked excitedly “Is this where he would meet with Robert E lee and Stonewall Jackson and JEB Stuart and all the rest? They sat right there around that table right??” and I and the tour guide answered yes and we could all almost see the great men sitting around the table …each with a pipe and a whiskey, somber faces looking for a way to defeat the relentless 100,000 strong mechanized armies from the north bent on destruction….I told my daughter afterwards that both the civil war museum and the confederate white house will soon be shut down by the fanatical social justice warriors who are unable to entertain views and world views different from their own. That is why THEY will never appreciate history like my daughter does.

The bankruptcy of the Christian intellectual II

By Augustinus

I just read Ralph Wood’s 2011 study of G.K. Chesterton’s life and work called “Chesterton: The nightmare goodness of God”. Ralph Wood is University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University. His book on Chesterton was endorsed by several people whom I have read and respect including David Bentley Hart, Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce and Fergus Kerr.  In the book Wood praises Chesterton for his great work on behalf of the church but then also seeks to criticize the great man on several points. One such was Chesterton’s great poem on Lepanto: the great naval battle of a European coalition against the Ottoman Turks. Wood criticizes Chesterton because the great man celebrated the bloody victory of the west over the barbaric Islamist fanatics too enthusiastically for Wood’s tastes. For Wood apparently, Christianity is mainly about peace and love and not denigrating other religions like Chesterton does in his magnificent, celebratory, epic poem Lepanto. Wood spends a lot of pages in his book trying to argue that Chesterton really wasn’t the kind of guy who celebrated bloody victories over heretic foes but Chesterton WAS that kind of guy. Believe or not the Church has always produced militant foes of heresy and that is precisely the kind of man the church needs today; unapologetic defenders of the Truth.

Finally a bishop with balls

By Augustinus

Bishop Paprocki of Springfield Illinois has instructed his priests to not give holy communion to Senator Dick Durbin because of his vigorous and open advocacy of abortion.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2018/02/23/illinois-bishop-bans-sen-dick-durbin-from-receiving-holy-communion-over-his-pro-abortion-stance/

Hallejuah! Someone still believes in sin! And this Bishop apparently takes his teaching obligation seriously.

from the article over at Breitbart:
“Senator Durbin has earned an impressive 100 percent rating from the abortion lobby group NARAL.

Durbin famously harassed 7th Circuit Court nominee Amy Barrett for her conservative Catholic faith during confirmation hearings last September, in what the LA Times described as a “cringeworthy interrogation.”

“I’m a product of 19 years of Catholic education and every once in a while holy mother the Church has not agreed with a vote of mine and has let me know,” Durbin said.”

19 years of catholic education tends to produce social justice warriors these days instead of good catholics. Social justice is a worthy cause but the ideology leads to heresy. The right way to do social justice is the old classical liberal way. Classical liberalism is now deemed to be extreme right wing but it is neither right nor left but traditional catholic social teaching.

The bankruptcy of the Catholic Intellectual

By Augustinus

Over at Crux there is a short interview with Richard Gaillardetz who is the Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. I believe he is also, or at least once was, the President of the professional society for American Catholic Theologians. He is the author of By What Authority? Foundations for Understanding Authority in the Church; and An Unfinished Council: Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism. He has been appointed to numerous official positions in Catholic circles, both nationally and internationally and has represented the Catholic position in numerous theologic forums the world over. In short, he is considered by both his colleagues in the theologic profession and by the Vatican hierarchy to be one of the best of American catholic theologians. He represents the cream of the crop of catholic theologians in America.

Yet here is what he said in the interview in Crux:

https://cruxnow.com/interviews/2018/02/14/theologian-church-doctrine-must-life-giving-not-oppressive/

“Finally, I want to add that being a fan of Pope Francis, as we both are, doesn’t mean being a booster. For all of his many accomplishments, I remain deeply saddened by his two great blind spots: 1) his failure to see that compassion for clerical sexual abuse victims is necessary but not sufficient; there must also be a clear commitment to bring episcopal enablers to justice. 2) his criticism of “gender theory” and Christian feminism which strikes me as lacking in both understanding and nuance.”

Its number 2 that I find to be such a striking statement, particularly for a duly canonically licenced catholic theologian.

I have never read of Gaillardetz’s books so it is not really fair of me to criticize him for a brief statement in a short interview. So dear reader take what I say here with a large grain of salt as I may be completely mischaracterizing this man’s views BUT….

It seems from the quote that he is saying that Pope Francis’s very mild criticisms of “gender theory” and Christian feminism were too much for him. I am inferring that Gaillardetz finds something of value in “gender theory” and Christian feminism.  I hope that that is not the case but I would not at all be surprised if it were the case as the American academy—at least the departments of humanities and social science, has been utterly corrupted by these ideologies. That is all they are. There is no intellectual substance to “gender theory” whatsoever. Most biologists treat it as a kind of American Lysenkoism– A state enforced Stalinist-like ideology mascarading as a bona fide science or intellectual discipline. The evolutionary biology and neuroscience of sexuality is so utterly complex that it far surpasses anything that gender theory can throw at it. If one feels some compassion for same-sex oriented people or transgendered people I recommend reading and studying evolutionary biology of sex—not “gender theory”!

It is a shame that this Gaillardetz can take gender theory seriously at all and then chide the Pope for his very mild criticisms of it. The problems with feminist theory are of an entirely different order than gender theory so I will not even attempt to discuss feminist theory here. My point is that here we have a major catholic intellectual and Church-licenced theologian who apparently is entirely taken in by a pathetic academic fad.

If you live in the Boston area you can take in some of the wisdom dispensed by Gaillardetz concerning the joys of the Francis papacy at an upcoming talk:

 

The Welcoming Church of Pope Francis February 25, 2018 at 11:15 am – 12:15 pm Sacred Heart Church, 1995 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington, MA

or visit the man’s website at:

https://gaillardetz.com/

Four conversations on science and religion

by Augustinus

 

My call to science, I am sure, came to me when I was just a boy. My heart and interests lay more in the realm of the stars, the forests, the mountains, the ocean, the rocks and fields of my youth than in the human realm around me. My earliest memory is of me at about 4 or 5 years coming out of a building situated at the top of one of the highest hills in Fitchburg, MA (my hometown) holding the hand of my mother and looking up to see first, my breath condensed into very fine white particles of ice, (for it was coldest winter) and then, as my breath cleared, spread out all around and above me, a vast plenitude of stars which covered the whole night sky in such  profligate beauty that I was left breathless with amazement. They seemed to billow out of the nothingness into a glorious and ravishing display of mystery. It was my first glimpse of the unimaginable number and excess of wonders which pour ceaselessly into the abundance of the world around me, the things that I was later to discover science was dedicated to cataloging, appreciating and understanding. That vision has never entirely left me and it has fueled a long term commitment to the scientific study of the natural world and its mysteries.

I spent the rest of my childhood sitting on the rooftops of the houses we lived in and peering at the night sky through the primitive telescopes my family obtained for me, and dreaming of one day getting closer to those celestial objects. In my teenage years however, my interests turned inward. Stilled awed by the cosmos and the science that could unlock its mysteries, I now felt a more pressing need to grasp something of the meaning of that vast cosmos and my place in it.  Not finding any answers in my astronomy books I turned to religion and philosophy.

I have always been both attracted to, and repulsed by the religious realm. I am attracted to religion because of its ability to produce saints, cultures, and communities, but I am repulsed by its addiction to groupthink, sanctimony, arbitrary moral codes, superstitious thinking, infantilization of its adherents, its “mercy” posturing, its out-group stigmatizations, and its fueling of violent conflicts all over the world. But when I was a teenager I was just looking for answers and religion seemed to promise something more than a vast and indifferent cosmos.

I soon was introduced to my family’s parish priest. He was a burly, chain smoking, wily intellectual guy, with wispy hair, black bushy eyebrows and eyes that lit up whenever he was allowed to speak of the virtues and gifts of others. He was the first person that I met with whom I could have a serious and extended conversation about the role of science and religion in my life and in the world at large. Fr Gothing lived to talk and he could talk about anything including science, philosophy, politics, history, and, of course God. For Gothing there was no conflict between science and religion. He often told me that any faith that could not be intellectually challenged is mere superstition and not genuine faith. Faith had to be rooted in truth and we reach truth through reason and through love. He insisted that revelation was consistent with reason, but a form of reason that was itself rooted in the whole man, heart, mind and soul. Science was a vocation– a call from God who demands you answer that call by developing your intellectual talents to the full. “You follow science” Gothing claimed, “and it will bring you to God”.

So it was a priest who first convinced me to answer that call to science I had experienced when just a kid. But religion in the meantime had ignited a kind of burning and insatiable thirst in me for its truths, as it demanded the whole of me; not just my intellect, heart or soul but all of me. That demand for total commitment was characteristic of both utterly destructive cults and whatever was best and beautiful in the human enterprise so I wanted to taste it. An indifferent or timid response to life seemed unthinkable to me-not after I had learned something of the staggering vastness and beauty of the cosmos and the equally perplexing mysteries of the people around me.  But how should one respond to the mystery exactly? With awe? Thanksgiving? Wonder? Puzzlement? Love? Gratitude? Resentment? Hatred? Terror? Inquiry? Any of these was better than indifference or timidity.

I chose sustained inquiry. I began to read more widely within the philosophies and cosmologies that religion offered. But the deeper I read the more absurdities I encountered and despite my thirst for religious truths my scientific commitments told me there were few to be found here. Throughout my college years I struggled intensely with these two passions of mine …science and religion-never fully reconciling them but often coming close to ditching religion altogether as the patently absurd option in my life.

Imagine my surprise then, when the next great conversation I had on science and religion was with an atheist who convinced me to continue my religious quest. This interlocutor was a famous mathematician who urged me to continue both my religious quest and my scientific work by combining the two. A scientific inquiry into religious phenomena would uncover its truths if any were to be found and expose its absurdities if they were really there. At the time I was a newly minted Ph.D. casting around for a set of topics to pursue that would not only interest me but would allow for a significant contribution from someone with the set of skills I had.

Mr Mathematician was a slender man, with wire-rim glasses and a hyper-rational style when speaking. He virtually never became emotional but always spoke calmly, logically and intimately, as if he only wanted you to hear what he was saying. He had a tremendous command of facts from contemporary history, politics, and philosophy.  If I challenged him on one of his claims in these areas he would pause, tip his head back and appear to do a search through his prodigious memory banks for the relevant information. Then, having completed the search would tip his head back down again, look at me and matter-of-factly say “No, I was correct.” He routinely quoted from memory whole paragraphs from historian’s monographs, newspaper articles and technical reports. During our meetings we would walk down Mass Ave in Cambridge then through Kendall square and over the salt and pepper bridge crossing the Charles River then up the river on the Boston side and back over the river via the Mass Ave bridge, talking incessantly all the way.

I once asked him “Do you believe in God?”  He replied “All of us only provisionally “believe” in anything. We have to rely on free unrestricted rational inquiry to get anywhere near the truth on anything and when we do build up a little knowledge here and there it is always only provisional knowledge, valid only until further inquiry verifies it or requires revision.” “Fair enough,” I replied. “It sounds like you recommend humility in pursuit of science and truth.” Nodding his head he said “Yeah, of course, given the mysteries we face.” “Is religion helpful in that project of unrestricted free enquiry?” I asked. Pausing and looking out over the Charles River he considered his words and then said:  “To the extent it protects people from arbitrary power, then yes but when it itself, which all too often happens, prevents free inquiry then it is just one more force promoting servility. Still, religion needs to be studied like every other human faculty. There is so much we do not know.”

He spoke of religion’s myriad incarnations down through history; from its bloody sacrificial monstrosities among the Aztecs, to its extravagant displays of sacrificial love among the catholic saints who defended the defenseless poor under attack from both right and left wing dictatorships in Latin America. Listening to his multidimensional take on religion, I began to see religion as a phantasmagoria of cultural excesses, a kind of generative cultural dynamo that was forever churning out rituals, pageantries, dogmas, gods, goddesses, dances, basilicas, temples, fanfares, taboos, silences and pilgrimages.

I began to see that religion’s claims, dogma’s and rituals are not merely negative or costly absurdities. Instead, they manifestly possess the power to send their adherents into everything from the most depraved lunacies up to the most sublime of contemplative states where one encounters the true, the good and the beautiful. Unlike democracy, religion isn’t interested in creating mere mediocrities. Instead it prefers monstrous sinners, grotesque impostors, febrile and apocalyptical madmen and extraordinary saints. How could I as a budding scientist not want to study that?

After my conversations with this extraordinary man, I began to use scientific techniques to study religion itself in hopes of either burying the religious option for myself once and for all, or of creating a kind of personal reconciliation between my scientific commitments and the burning need I felt to encounter God face to face.

After 20 years of investigation into religion I cannot report that I have come any closer to reconciling my religious quest with my scientific work. While I think it is fair to say that I have inched the natural understanding of religion a little further, I have concluded that all religions are ultimately dead ends. They can take you so far and then no further. I do not consider Roman Catholicism a religion as it contains ultimate truth and is not designed to confer mere gnosis on its adherents. It promises nothing less than salvation but that is a story for another time.

I recently have had a third conversation on science and religion with a man who is a professional religious philosopher …and who unlike most academics I meet these days has somehow managed to preserve a traditional religious outlook while simultaneously penning the most abstruse analytic tomes on the question of God and religious experience I have seen. He is a tall, bearded guy with a bald head, fierce eyes and an easy going and engaging demeanor. He’s a heavy pipe smoker, with yellowed teeth, and a speech style drenched in nicotinic-studded, multi-syllabic subordinate clauses.

I told him that I thought the most accurate description of the human religious scene was Borges’ “Library of Babel” wherein a group of mad librarians frantically attempt to find some pattern in the avalanche of randomly constructed texts in an otherwise infinite library that leads nowhere and goes nowhere.

“All you religious philosophers are doing is charting imagined patterns where none exist in the randomly arranged stacks of gibberish that surround us on all sides of the library.”

Whereupon he replied: “Recall, however that Borges’ library was generated by a simple combinatorial rule, the recombination of every possible mix of the 26 letter alphabet into books and thus any book that ever could be written with that alphabet was written and was stored in the library. So there is a book in that library that contains your entire life story, from beginning to end and every possible variation of that life story.”

I pounced: “But doesn’t that near infinite library with my life story all laid out in excruciating detail in trillions of books therefore rule out the possibility of any fundamental science or of a loving creator God? After all if a loving rational God exists why would he write out every possible outcome of my life beforehand? Do I really have free will if all of the possible actions that I will ever perform, all the good and all the evil I will ever do is already known and written out in minute detail in a set of books stored and ready to be read in a near infinite portion of the near infinite great Library of Babel?”

“No not in the least!” he replied. “Two facts about the library prove God’s existence and that He is a loving God. First, once again note that the library is generated by a very simple combinatorial rule and thus it is intrinsically knowable by organisms like us who have minds that can use reason. And second, note that we who are trapped or find ourselves within the library can discover that combinatorial rule and thus unlock the secrets of the library. I do not see in the library just seas of gibberish but there is also an infinite garden of delights waiting to be discovered. And don’t forget that within the library there is a book that tells the story of how you unlocked the secrets of your own heart and found indestructible peace. Why can’t we seek out those books that god has provided for us within the library”

“Well, for starters, (I replied somewhat impatiently) that good and gracious God of yours buried those wonderful books within a near infinite sea of books of horror, gibberish, rubbish and misery so that the good books are near impossible for us to find or access. And even if we could find them how does the existence of these books outweigh the existence of all of the books where my life story is drenched in suffering, evil, misery and horror?”

“That is a question whose final answer will only be revealed when God brings an end to the world and library itself. But reason suggests that the two (the good and the bad books) cancel one another out and we are left with what is; reality, which is neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but is definitely not just another book in the library and therein lies a clue to the meaning of the library itself.”

Unconvinced by these arguments, I changed the subject and asked him point blank: “How do you do it? How do you reconcile your faith in God with reason and science?” Then he replied:

“You have to do it personally. You have to verify for yourself, personally that God is a reality, a personal, living being.”

But how? I cried. “By inviting Him in. You have to ask him into relationship with you. He will not appear without your invitation.” When I replied that I had tried that before and experienced nothing, he pulled reflectively on his pipe, blowed out a few rings of aromatic smoke and replied “Well try again. Don’t give up! A good scientist chases the truth. He does not give up.”

“Look”, he said “religion and certainly God, cannot be grasped by the mind alone, unless we enlarge our conception of what is meant by the term: “mind”. We need an enlarged conception of reason and of science if we are going to grasp the world’s or even religion’s capacities for good and evil. We have to use that form of reason that can not only discover the combinatorial rule that generates the Library of Babel, but that can allow us to find the books that really matter for us. As numerous of my colleagues, the religious philosophers have pointed out, religion is a matter of the heart, as well as reason. This is not some sentimental appeal to emotion or a flight from reason or the scientific method. Rather it is giving reason or Mind—and religion their due.

You can verify for yourself whether reason involves neutral computations on inert clumps or matter or instead is a kind of discovery and valuation process. Think for a moment about what you have learned about the universe. Science reveals an enormously large universe and a potentially infinite set of large universes like the Library of Babel. We are inured to the wonder these facts should evoke in us. Our world is just a little speck of dust when considered from the point of view of space-say, a satellite orbiting the earth. An astronaut circling the earth, cannot see any people down there on the earth. Alls he or she sees are oceans and continents. But, the earth itself, of course is just a speck of dust from the point of view of the boundaries of the solar system. Even the sun, only 8 minutes (in light years) away from the earth dwarfs the earth into nothingness. But the sun itself is just a speck of dust from the point of view of the boundaries of our local sector of our galaxy. But our sector of the galaxy is very, very small compared to the size of the galaxy itself. And how noticeable am I from the point of view of the galaxy itself? But wait again, our galaxy is just a speck of dust from the point of view of another galaxy or cluster of galaxies perhaps thousands of light years away. But there is a real possibility that this gigantic universe, (that contains me as only a speck of dust, on a speck of dust-so small that I am vanishingly small) may be only one of a huge number of such universes!

Size is one thing, essence is another. I am truly just a speck of dust-at least in terms of size. But what about my essence? The fact that I can stand apart from this gigantic universe, from this massive Library of Babel and evaluate it objectively, suggests that my essence, my reason is a powerful faculty not reducible to the Library, the universe or its constituents. If my reason or consciousness can stand outside the entire cosmos and evaluate its size and composition both morally and scientifically, then Reason or Mind cannot be a purely mechanical process. Instead it can judge whether it itself is a mechanical process. It can stand apart from “it”, observe it, evaluate it and then judge whether “it” is the same or different from some other “it”—therefore it cannot be reduced to “it”.   Mind can also judge the value of things in the cosmos and whether or not they are good. In that sense it stands in judgment of the cosmos—this small puny human speck of dust can condemn the universe as worthless if he wishes. He can reject as gibberish any book found in the great library and this rejection in favor of meaning will matter infinitely for him and his loved ones. Finally reason or mind can reflect on itself; it is (uncannily) aware that it is aware. Thus, science and reason must involve passion, heart, valuation and judgment-not mere tabulation, cataloging, computation or contemplation. When we approach the world, the Library or even religion and science with this enlarged conception of reason what do we find?  We find a universe composed not merely of randomly arranged shelves of gibberish, but of “persons” as well. We find those disembodied (and fully embodied!) agents that the naturalists despise but that the religions universally celebrate. Persons can evaluate any given portion of the library as meaningful or as gibberish and therefore they are different from any possible book that can appear in the library.”

I grew impatient with his claims and tried to steer the conversation back to my personal religion and science concerns. “OK, I am different from any book that has been written about me and that is contained in the library….but how does this information get me any closer to God?”

He replied “Only you and God can answer that and when you invite God in he will actually show up.”

“And if and when he shows up what then? I asked sarcastically.” “Then…he’ll answer you… everything will seem the same but be different. Listen to Pascal’s first encounter with God (At this point he set aside his pipe and pulled out of his wallet a scrap of paper that he apparently carried around with him): “…joy…silent, quiet, deep, indestructible, searing and exultant, joy and happiness…he felt his heart blazing up within him…he felt the Lord there with him, the sacred one whose heart too was blazing- the two of them silent with eyes of fire and peace and beatitude. He leapt up and ran out into the street with prayer on his lips and with gratitude in his heart. Yes he had seen it now and nothing would ever be the same.”

“Sounds like gibberish to me…” I replied but thanked him for the conversation.

I am back in my hometown with my 6 year old daughter. I take her to see the old family house way up there on the hill. I show her where I played as a boy of 4-6 years old. Strangers living there now. We knock. No answer. We turn and walk into the darkness of the night and the frigid dark air. We breathe in and out the fresh cold air, she follows her breath as it drifts up and dissolves into the freezing night sky, and then she exclaims… “Papa look! She is pointing up into the night sky and with wonder in her voice says “Look at them Papa!” I just nod, smile and lift her up on my shoulders so she can drink in the beauty and mystery that awaits her.

 

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The church and modernity

By Augustinus

There is a fierce and healthy debate going on in the world church concerning the church’s relationship to “modernity”. Modernity in its current incarnation is known as liberaism. Over at the liberal Catholic Herald, Adrian Vermeule, a highly respected Harvard Law Professor who holds a Chair in constitutional law, argues that liberalism in any form is toxic for the church. See http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2018/01/05/as-secular-liberalism-attacks-the-church-catholics-cant-afford-to-be-nostalgic/

Vermuele also very nicely summarizes some of the positions in the American portion fo the debate. Rusty Reno over at First Things journal argues that liberalism per se is not the problem. It is “creedal liberalism”–i.e. that form of liberalism that arrogantly assumes its own inherent goodness and progressivity etc Similarly the Catholic columnist and blogger over at the New York Times Ross Douthat argues that liberalism per se is not the problem. In fact Douthat looks back to the first half of the 20th century up to the 1950s as an example of how the Church can flourish in a liberal democracy and positively influence the moral tenor of the culture.  Like Douthat and Reno before him the Iranian Catholic blogger over at Commentary Sohrab Ahmari, points to he Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II years as proof that liberalism and catholicism can co-exist and even work together to defeat totalitarianisms.

Vermuele will have none of this. He points to clear historical trends that liberalism and modernity slowly but inexorably eats away at the Faith by undermining those parts of the Church most eager to appear “modern”, “liberal” and “progressive”.  The greatest intellects, the most forward thinking sectors of the church; those churchmen who are using the latest sientific methods etc…all of these individuals begin to advocate an “updating” of doctrine” and practice. They sincerely believe that the updating will attract all those lost souls who hate and despise the church for its ‘antiquated” and “backward”, and “superstitious” doctrines and practices. All of the apparently enlightened and right thinking churchmen want the ‘updating” and that is why, Vermuele  argues, all of the protestant denominations are closing down and apostatizing. They follow their enlightened leaders down a trajectory that their forebears began in the 19th century…they discard antiquated social doctrines, then creedal doctrines that appear to conflict with non-progressive social doctrines and then the Trinity is discarded and finally unitarianism and atheism is the  end result.

But Vermuele does not see much hope in “traditionalist” catholics either as they too are bitten by the very ideology they denounce the most: Modernism. They see the solution to the modernist crisis in the church as a going back to some mythical time when the Church was not in crisis. But Vermuele rightly points out that there is no going back and the church was never not in crisis.

I do not know what Vermuele’s preferred solution is but his firm rejection of all existing proposed solutions seems unassailable.

 

Do not be conformed to this world

By Augustinus

One of the greatest temptations for the church and indeed for any Christian is to adopt the morals of the surrounding world instead of adhering to the divine law. When the whole world is saying you must burn incense to the emperor as that is what all right-minded people do; then there is strong temptation to do just that. When you look around and all of the best people, the decent, humane, citizens are burning the incense, then you ask yourself why can’t I and my church do the right thing and do the same? When upright, compassionate, right-thinking, civilized, forward-thinking, progressive, decent, smiling people are burning incense to the emperor, then there is a strong temptation for you to do so as well. When all of the leaders, all of the cultural leaders of the country say you must burn incense to the emperor or be seen as an anti-social, hate-monger, then there is a strong temptation to “burn the incense”..

After all, who wants to be seen as judgmental, backward-looking, retrogressive, hate-filled, condemnatory, indecent, uncivilized resisters to the simple act of burning the incense? How can one resist these decent humane people when they argue that morals have progressed beyond old testament superstitions? They point out that scriptures did not condemn slavery and yet the whole world now sees slavery as a gross immorality! Clearly, humanity can progress morally over the centuries and sometimes it must do so without the support of the divine law as evidenced by scripture.

Scripture, tradition, church fathers, church councils, doctors of the church, popes and saints alike have all condemned active homosexuality (the orientation is a different matter as that is not chosen by the afflicted individual) and none of these authorities have unequivocally condemned slavery (St Patrick was an exception). Yet the modern world celebrates homosexuality and condemns slavery. Members of the church from the Pope down to the laity in the pews wish that things were different. But the record is clear. What the church has historically condemned is now practiced as a liberatory virtue by the modern world. Something has to give. Should divine law bend to the sensibilities of modern bourgeoisie in their celebration of the sexual revolution? Or should the Church LEAD the modern world in observance of divine law?

The church is going through a phase where it wants to be liked by the modern world. The current Pope and much of the hierarchy and certainly most of the laity in the pews basically agrees with the modern world regarding the moral status of the sexual revolution. Masturbation is not really a vice, Homosexuality is not an intrinsic evil. Divorce is OK under many circumstances. Sex outside marriage is not always bad, in fact it is natural and OK.  Virginity and chastity are weird and anti-life. Married and homosexual priests are OK (especially when they are both homosexual and married!). Abortion is both virtuous and life enhancing. In fact it is a human right!

The church is in crisis partly because it wants to be loved by the right-thinking cultural leaders of our time all of whom have bought into the values of the sexual revolution. Unfortunately for the current Pope and the coterie of bourgeois bishops he has surrounded himself with, the church has to deal with the long record of scripture, councils, popes, doctors, theologians etc all condemning what the modern world praises.

I myself find some good in some aspects of the sexual revolution and much good in modernity itself (see my articles on Vatican II in this blog) but I despise the leaders of the church who would have the church kowtow, virtue-signal, apologize,  bow and scrape to the bourgeois cultured-despisers of religion in the modern world who are demanding and indeed shrieking that ALL must “burn the incense” or be considered retrogressive hate-mongers..

Albertus Magnus

 

By Augustinus

Today, November 15, is the feast day of Albert the Great. He is the patron saint of scientists. As I was trained as a neuroscientist it seemed fit to say a few words here in honor of the man. He was born just before 1200 AD near Cologne Germany and died some 84 years later. That was a tremendously long life to live for the middle ages (most people died by 40 years of age in those days) and it is no exaggeration to say that he spent it well in service to the Church and to science.besides authoring dozens of scientific and theological works he worked tirelessly as official administrative Church positions all his life.

Most people remember Albert the Great as the mentor and teacher of his more famous student St Thomas Aquinas. Albert was fiercely proud and protective of Thomas. He more than once defended Thomas against charges of heresy from the theologians at the University of Paris.  While Thomas surpassed his master in the area of theology, Albert was by far the better scientist than Thomas (and Thomas was the better theologian).

What is the significance of the man for us today? I hesitate to pronounce on so weighty a question as I have read only the De homine. How can you evaluate a man’s intellectual legacy after having read only a single one of his works? Answer: You can’t. So what I am about to share here are simply my impressions of Albert’s key contributions.

First of all Albert was the key figure who introduced all of the newly discovered corpus of Aristotle’s works to the church and the west. Since Aristotle was a man who was interested in everything he required a man like Albert 9who was also interested in everything) to appreciate the magnitude of Aristotle’s accomplishments and bring them to the intellectual foreground in the high middle ages. Aristotle’s interests included everything from minerals and geology to ethics and psychology. Albert produced small advances on Aristotle in several scientific fields including geology, mathematics, biology, astronomy and psychology.

Without the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the high middle ages it is likely that the scientific revolution in the west would have been delayed for centuries. It was Albert who made Aristotle acceptable to the Church and thus to the west. The battle within the church over Aristotle went on for over a century and continued even after Albert’s death but Albert’s intervention on behalf of Aristotle was certainly a turning point for the Church in its acceptance of the imago dei as reason or intellect.

The theologians were suspicious of Aristotle not just because he was a pagan philosopher but also because they interpreted him through the commentaries of Averroes-the famous Muslim philosopher. Averroes put a Muslim spin on Aristotelian concepts and thus Aristotle came off as incompatible with Christian doctrine. But Albert showed that Averroes interpretations of Aristotle were incorrect and that Aristotle’s basic metaphysics and categories were perfectly compatible with Christian doctrine. Averroes for example, tended to treat individuals as simple emanations from a larger agent intellect or world soul or God. Albert saw that that perspective destroyed individuality and pointed out that the doctrine could not be found in Aristotle’s treatment of the agent intellect. Thus, Albert preserved the long tradition in the west to favor the individual over group consciousness.

This accent on the individual could also be seen in his nuanced treatment of the problem of universals. Are general concepts like “whiteness” or “man” independent ideas that exist in a realm of eternal ideas or are there no eternal ideas and are these general ideas better understood as qualities that only appear in individuals? The nominalists denied existence to universal ideas and argued that the only reality existed in individual things while the universalists argued with Plato that only the universals were real and individual things simply manifested these eternal ideas. The problem will never be solved until we have direct access to an eternal realm to verify whether eternal ideas exist. Albert argued for a moderate realism and allowed theologians and philosophers to make a bit of progress on the issue by making some crucial distinctions. Albert suggested that we should distinguish 1) universals that pre-exist (perhaps in some eternal realm) the individuals that manifest them; 2) those that exist in individual things (i.e. particulars) and 3) those that exist in the mind when abstracted from particulars. In Albert’s scheme each position has some truth: there are eternal ideas and universals can also be manifest in particulars. They are sometimes in the eternal realm; sometimes in the mind only and sometimes in the substance itself, independent of the mind. These distinctions allowed later philosophers to preserve the integrity of the individual. The individual need not be seen as merely an instance of a larger group or abstract idea.

I find that one of the most interesting of Albert’s contributions to philosophy and theology to be his treatment of the agent intellect in De homine. The agent intellect is largely an idea of the western catholic philosophers in the middle ages with Albert being the first to make it central to his philosophical anthropology. The mediaeval philosophers thought they had found the idea of the agent intellect in Aristotle’s De Anima but if they had it was derived from a very cursory treatment of the idea. No. Aristotle did not produce the idea—the mediaeval philosophers (especially Albert and Thomas) did.

What is the agent intellect and why is it important? It is the imago dei; the essence of the human soul — the human intellect. It is our capacity to reason, to make free choices. The agent intellect spiritualizes all that it attends to. It extracts form and intelligibility from the particulars in the world out there beyond the mind. Complimentary to the agent intellect is the passive intellect which picks up sensory impressions and provides the raw material for the agent intellect to transform into spirit. Now Albert asked what happens if the agent intellect turned its powers on itself and the passive intellect? In that case the possible intellect can consider the intelligible forms of the mental images of the mind which are derived from the senses, thus spiritualizing consciousness itself. When the passive intellect operates under the sole influence of the agent intellect, the possible intellect undergoes a complete transformation and subsequently enhances the powers of the agent intellect. Then emerges what Albert called the “adept intellect” which then allows the human being to undergo mystical illumination by higher angelic intellects and this constitutes man’s natural happiness.

Saint Albertus Magnus pray for us!