Three Random Questions

[NOTE: If I were a better writer, I would have developed each of these thoughts into a full-length essay.  But this is the best I can do right now.]

 

How does an atheist explain Euclid? In a purely material world, what is a perfect circle or a straight line or a point? These do not exist in nature. If they are mere ideas, mental constructs, thoughts made up of flashing neurons, then why do they work so well to explain reality?  Why does geometry work? Why can a mere thought become a building or a bridge?

 

 

Would it be fair to describe Richard Dawkins and his progeny as “Hard Shell Atheists”?

I am of course thinking of the term “Hard Shell Baptists”, coined to describe (indeed, self-describe) the “Primitive” or “Old School” who self-separated from the more mainstream Southern Baptists.   Starting in 19th century rural America, they rejected any religious activity beyond the church walls and home prayer; even missionary societies and Sunday schools were unacceptable to them. “If it isn’t explicitly ordered in scripture, it is untrue and unchristian.”

Some of today’s atheists sound vaguely similar, at least in tone.  “If it isn’t written in science, it is untrue.” “If it hasn’t been answered by science, it soon will.” “If it can’t be answered by science, it can’t be asked.”  Dawkins’ thinking often seems to be carefully isolated within a hard protective shell.   Some writers have called this “scientism”, a faith in science as the one and only path to understanding: “sola scientia”, instead of “sola scriptura”.

Am I being unfair? Maybe. I will try to pray for the enlightenment of all atheists.

 

 

When does purgatory begin? Not until we die (assuming we die in a state of grace)?As I understand it, purgatory is the state of suffering in expiation for the sins we have repented.  If so, then purgatory begins with repentance, and does not end with priestly absolution. “Ego te absolvo” is not the finish line.  The memory of our sins is the lifelong experience of the repentant sinner whenever he contemplates his own past. Every memory can conjure up the pain and shame of his sinfulness at its worst. At least it is so for me.

Perhaps this unwillingness or inability to cast off the memory of my sins is in itself a sin, an unwillingness to accept God’s merciful love.  If so, I am just digging my hole deeper.

But if this pain of remembered sin is in fact the act of purgation, if this is the unstated part of penance, then perhaps I should not resist.

Dante’s Purgatorio (purgatory) is by far the most interesting part of his Divine Comedy.  For me the Inferno (hell) is too darkly comcal, and Paradiso (heaven) is frankly too sweet.  But in Purgatory, our humanness is realistically but hopefully portrayed.

I think I will read some Dante tonight; you should too.  There are many good translations, with helpful notes explaining the characters in Dante’s world.  I recommend Anthony Esolen’s version (and everything else he ever wrote).

 

Reasonable Steps to Jesus

(With a little help from some scientists.)

1.  Astronomers have determined that the universe began at a certain point in time (14.5 billion years ago, more or less).  It appears to have been created from nothing, paralleling Genesis. (See NASA and Goddard Institute for Space Studies founder Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers).

2.  The universe obeys certain strict physical and mathematical laws and structure, making it comprehensible to human minds.  This suggests an intelligence guiding its creation.

3. Paleontologists have determined that life began, indeed exploded on earth as soon as the planet’s surface had cooled sufficiently to sustain it, within the first billion years of earth’s existence. (See Stephen Jay Gould, A Wonderful Life).   This suggests a universe predisposed towards life.

4.  Human self-consciousness triggered an innate sense of right and wrong in the earliest humans. This moral sense or  “Natural Law”  suggests a lawgiver.  (See NIH and Human Genome Project Director Francis Collins, The Language of God).

5.  Before the earthly life of Jesus, no philosophy or religion had elevated love above all other virtues.  None had ever valued the poor over the rich, the weak over the strong, the childish over the wise, the humble over the proud, or mercy over strict justice.

This, along with the Gospel testimonies and the amazingly rapid growth of Christianity (spread worldwide in three centuries by missionaries rather than armies, as was Islam), suggests that Jesus was, if not divine, at the very least the most unique human or spiritual leader of all time.

The god that could create the world and make it humanly understandable would also be capable of revealing his nature to us, in both indirect and direct ways (miracles).

So there I found myself, in five simple steps, standing at the door of the Church.  The fact that it took me seven decades to take those steps speaks to my own stubborn slowness rather than the difficulty of the steps themselves.  Others, perhaps less clever than I, seem to reach the door, and pass through it, quickly and easily.  I am just grateful that I have been given the time I needed.

 

NOTES and Quotes:

Francis Collins wrote “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful.”

He also wrote that “God must be an incredible physicist…There is this phenomenal fine-tuning of the universe that makes complexity and, therefore life, possible.”

Robert Jastrow wrote “Far from disproving the existence of God, astronomers may be finding more circumstantial evidence that God exists.”

Circumstantial evidence is exactly what scientists provide us with every day.  Witness testimony is what we get from believers.  Together, the case is made strong.

 

 

 

Vatican Betrays Chinese Catholics. Again.

Sad but not entirely unexpected news:  The Pope has once again betrayed the suffering Catholics of Communist China.  Heroic Cardinal Zen has written an open letter to all his brothers in the Catholic hierarchy, denouncing the new Concordat that sold out the church’s true believers and subjected them to total control buy the Chinese Communist Party.

The letter has been published openly on the Catholic website OnePeterFive.com,  an invaluable resource for the church’s current crisis. (It was one of the first to publish Archbishop Vigano’s challenges to the Vatican’s longtime embrace of former Cardinal McCarrick.) Here is the publisher’s introduction of…

“…a letter that Cardinal Joseph Zen sent some time ago to all the cardinals, and that he has now decided to make public. Needless to say, the latest news coming from mainland China only confirms and augments the concerns expressed for some time by many people about the interim agreement signed by representatives of the Holy See and the government of Beijing.”

Cardinal Zen asks “can we passively witness this killing of the Church in China on the part of those who should be protecting and defending it from its enemies?”  A good question.  As directed to the present papal incumbent, the answer appears to be “Yes”.

I started by saying “the Pope has once again betrayed…”  I was thinking also of the earlier betrayal when one of his “social justice” people startled the world (and the Chinese Catholics who know better) with the declaration that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” The remark came from Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, two years ago.  The pope never disagreed, just as he has never responded to Archbishop Vigano’s j’accuse  August 2018, or to Cardinal Zen’s letter, presented to the Pope in July.

Yet another gratuitous slap in the face for those Catholics suffering persecution in China, and an embarrassment to the rest of us.

Read the full letter here.

Then say a prayer for Cardinal Zen and his flock.  And pray that more bishops will find their voices.

Squirrels?

“And now, for something completely different…”

That opening line from the old Monty Python show applies here.  My friend Mr. Moleman has posted a story by a new author, “Mr. X” (probably Moleman himself).  It is a charming tale about young love, revolutionary politics, teenage rebellion, and squirrels.  Yes, squirrels.

I read it and found it both delightful and thought-provoking; but mostly just delightful.  It is suitable for all ages. I think you will enjoy it too.

As I write this sitting in my study, I am looking out at two squirrels in my yard.  They are fascinating creatures, indeed; if they ever evolve the opposable thumb (as the story says they are trying to do), we are all doomed.

Anyway, HERE is the link to the complete story.  Or go to mistermoleman.com and check out all his stuff..

God is not Serendipitous

I have re-discovered yet another glaringly-obvious truism: There is no serendipity with God. If you do not seek him, you will not find him.  “Seek and you shall find,” it says repeatedly in the Bible; but never the reverse.

Serendipity is defined as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”.

And it seems to me that we cannot find God, nor even seek him, without a sense of sin. (More specifically, a sense of our own sinfulness. Everyone believes in the sinfulness of others, or at least certain others.)

If we cannot or choose not to see ourselves as sinners, then we will not find God because we will not see any reason to look for him.

This truth, I believe, is the real reason for the collapse of Christianity in the modern western world. Our sense of sinfulness has been washed away by our sense of victimhood and our belief in therapy as a substitute for morality.*

The victimhood cult became a thing when we re-codified the concept of justice. The Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian sense of justice meant acting justly toward others.

The modern cults of identity politics and self esteem have redefined justice (actually reoriented it 180 degrees) from “treating others fairly” into “treating me fairly: ensuring that I and my group get what we deserve.” This melds the comfortable enjoyment of moral indignation and freedom from personal responsibility for, well, anything. Continue reading

Why All the Stars, Ben?

Another spectacular APOD (Astronomy Picture Of the Day) from NASA and the Hubble telescope: the Starburst Galaxy (M94)!  “A mere 15 million light years distant,” NASA tells us; that means that a beam of its light takes 15 million years to reach us.  Containing billions of stars, to us it is a tiny, faint point of light in the night sky.

I know I seem to be obsessing on these NASA photos.  But every new image I see paints a wider, deeper, and more wonderful picture of the universe our Lord has created.  And the incomprehensible distance grows between this universe and its beginning in an infinitesimally small seed in the palm of God’s hand barely 14 billion years ago.

Every APOD is a proclamation of the greater glory of God.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  I remember when NASA first launched the Hubble Telescope into space, back in 1990.  Shortly after launch, they discovered its main mirror was warped.  The TV comedians had a field day, mocking the scientists for their incompetence and calling it a boondoggle.  But NASA’s Space Shuttle astronauts fixed it in 1993, and it has been exploring the universe (and sending us these dazzling images) ever since. It is projected to continue working until 2030 or even 2040.

Thanks, NASA!  If only every government program worked this well.

More on Truman and Msgr. Swetland

[A while back, I wrote a post about President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons to end the war with Japan. I specifically objected to remarks by Msgr. Stuart Swetland on Relevant Radio.  He has since responded, and I re-responded.  The full original post is here.

And, as I noted then, my dissent indicates no disrespect for the excellent work done every day by Msgr. Swetland and Relevant Radio, which I love.]

My original post began…

On August 6, the terrible anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I was listening to the indispensable Catholic media outlet Relevant Radio, and I heard a curious interview with Msgr. Stuart Swetland on the subject of the day.

It made me think of Calvin Coolidge who is credited with many laconic (and probably apocryphal) anecdotes; my favorite is his supposed comment on returning from church one Sunday. Asked what the preacher spoke on, he answered: “Sin.” Further asked: “What did he say about it?”, Cal responded: “He was against it.”

Continue reading

Are We Being Watched?

Well of course we are.  Cornea, iris, pupil…

This amazing galaxy appears to be watching us.  Courtesy of NASA, this view of “Hoag’s Object” raises more questions than it answers.  The main star cluster in the center is surrounded by a doughnut-shaped ring of stars, with empty space in between!  You can actually see more distant stars and another ring-shaped galaxy through the doughnut hole. Also lots of other, farther-away galaxies are scattered around the picture.

And yet…  All this was once so compact and tiny that it would fit in YOUR hand.

See NASA and Psalm 19 for more information.

 

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Grow Up, Francis!

A good friend, an Irish-Notre-Dame-cradle catholic, says “I still like this pope”. Despite the clue contained in that “still”, he seems mystified why anyone (like me) thinks the papacy (and the Church) took a nosedive when Benedict retired.

My own spiritual journey, leading to my now-two-year-old conversion, owed a great deal to Benedict XVI, and found me towards the end hung up on the problems of joining his successor’s church. I finally made it over that obstacle, but I came into the Church as a worried layman wondering why the current management seems so unworthy and unlike its predecessors.

My PF concerns do not entirely overlap with those of some of his conservative critics. The divorced/remarried communion issue is not mine. I am not divorced, and I certainly can understand why pastors do not want to confront their divorced/remarried parishioners with such a tough choice as no sex or no Eucharist. [I do think the church’s teaching errs by considering divorce as a matter between two adults (and God, of course), thereby making the same mistake as our courts do: treating the children as a collateral issue. In my view, divorce between childless adults is one thing, while divorce with children is wanton, cruel family destruction, a particularly hypocritical form of child abuse. But that does not make “Amoris Laetitia” a problem for me. I wrote about this in “Suffer the Little Children: Aquinas on Divorce“, below.]

His non-response to the sexual abuse crisis is another matter. Continue reading

Three Small Thoughts With No Connection

What’s New?

What did Moses and Jesus bring into the world that was new?

Before the Bible, and especially before Jesus, what religion ever valued…

–the poor over the rich?

–the weak over the strong?

–the childish over the wise?

–the humble over the proud?

–mercy over strict justice?

This is most clear in the paganism of the ancient world. The values of mercy and humility are conspicuously absent in the writings of Greece and Rome. Their heroes and moral exemplars are all proud, rich, strong, and wise.  They NEVER said “Love your enemies”.

Tentative conclusion: Nietzsche was right to hate Jesus and the Jews, for they gave the world everything that he despised.

 

The Need to Know Sin

Why has the modern world lost God? Because we have decided that we are not sinners, and so we do not need Him.

We do not sin so we do not need forgiveness.  We are basically good people, so we do not need help to become better. We are innocent, so we do not fear judgement.

The “triumph of the therapeutic” outlook (see P. Rieff) has convinced us that we do not sin, but only make mistakes. We embrace the view that all we enjoy and everything we like to do must be good. We can proudly boast “I have no regrets!” without blushing or laughing at ourselves.

We do not search for God (or even understand why others would do so) for two reasons. Some do not feel the need for divine help. Others feel the need, but are unwilling to accept any help that includes a list of “Thou shalt not’s”.

Without a sense of sin and our own sinfulness, how can we ever find God? Or even begin the search?

 

The Wisdom of Sancho Panza

It is hard to admit that I had to grow old before I could begin to grow up. But it is true. I had been so full of myself that I had no room for God or even for other people who loved me. I had to learn to empty myself first. That has meant learning humility, above all. It has been a hard lesson for me, after a lifetime in which soaring self-esteem seemed to be my natural state.

Finally, I begin to see my own smallness in the world, paired somehow with the greatness I share with each of us as creatures made in the image of God.

In Don Quixote, Cervantes has his picaresque character Sancho Panza observe that “everyone is as God has made him, and oftentimes a great deal worse”.  In my case, he is right.