A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Abandoning Reason for Materialism

It is a commonly-held view in modern times, even by scholars, that many positive aspects of today’s society are attributable to the Protestant Reformation. They say that Protestantism “liberated” society from the yoke of the Catholic Church, putting religion, learning, government and labor into the hands of the common people. Further, they attribute the Reformation as leading to modern science, democracy, liberal philosophy and public education. Unfortunately, this is the propaganda so many people are victimized with in public school, only to subsequently center their worldview on these accusations against the Catholic Church. Even many Catholics themselves fall into this, viewing the Church and its Sacraments as mere symbols and congregational sentiments while giving way to permissiveness and compliance towards Goodness and Truth.

In truth, the Reformation stunted the intellectual, technological, political and economic growth of Europe for centuries, especially with the pillaging wreaked by Henry VIII in England by closing monasteries, legalizing usury and separating from the Church. By the time of the Renaissance, people in the Church - especially monks - had progressed very far, having developed the university system, the scientific method, the continuation of writing, and more, even discovering the technology of casting iron which led to the Industrial Revolution centuries later. The Reformation explicitly denied the vast range of Catholic learning, especially its emphasis on philosophy, science, classical literature, Latin and humanistic principles. More deeply, the Reformation denied reason. To quote Martin Luther, “[reason] is the Devil's greatest whore.” (Martin Luther's Last Sermon in Wittenberg ... Second Sunday in Epiphany, 17 January 1546.Dr. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. (Weimar: Herman Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1914), Band 51:126, Line 7ff)

But the Reformation was not independent of its times. It was a constituent development of the Renaissance, which heralded both spectacular and horrible ideas for Western civilization. On the one hand, Catholicism developed humanism, which emphasized human dignity as being in the Image of God and applying that idea to all areas of life, which lead to modern democracy, human rights, civil rights, etc. On the other, fear of the Black Plague shifted people’s focus from the heavenly topics of Catholicism to concerns of the world. Society began to focus on money, aesthetics, technology, nature and individualism. The underlying philosophy that developed in the Renaissance, opposite Catholic humanism, was materialism. This was the root of the Reformation just as much as other Renaissance developments.

Many people forget (or ignore) the fabric of materialism in Protestantism. By emphasizing the purely literal and historical meaning of Scripture to the exclusion of all else, denying fields such as philosophy and literature, and citing Catholic Sacraments as superstitious and its sacramentals as idolatrous, Protestants denied all meaning and significance beyond the obvious physical world. Ironically, many Protestants also hated the physical world, espousing a sort of Platonism where only the spiritual world means anything and is absolutely separate from the physical. In their confusion, Protestants believed Catholic attribute spiritual significance and philosophical meaning to life because we prefer the world over God. In truth, we do this because the world was made by God, and thus has meaning, especially sanctified by the Incarnation - whereas Protestant materialism simply distances God and vilifies the world.

The Protestant rejection of reason, as an expression of Renaissance materialism, has influenced the entire world since. Before the Renaissance, society - especially scholars and religious/clergy - viewed learned information as simply a tool for the clarification of reason. The purpose of education in the Middle Ages was the sharpening and honing of reason. To them, while some people are ignorant and will always be, everyone has reason and can use it, so it is truly an inherently human faculty that can uncover and interpret Truth. At the advent of the Renaissance and its materialist forsaking of reason, the focus in people’s lives - especially in academic circles - became acquiring as much information as possible. Knowledge, rather than reason, became the measure of not only intelligence, but wisdom and spiritual vision. Protestant ministers were not judged apt based on their elucidative abilities, but on their memorization of Scripture. Similarly, philosophy, logic and rhetoric took a back seat to the memorization of historical, scientific, economic and mathematical information with no pressure to care about one’s subject. The study and use of reason became not only marginalized but mocked and rebuked as immature, irrelevant and primitive.

I believe this is one of the most difficult fundamental obstacles Catholics often face in dialogue with atheists and Protestants. Catholicism still employs reason. Even if our people are usually rationally inhibited during materialistic public school, many Catholics still attend Catholic school, especially if they subsequently attend seminary or a Catholic college, or simply study it themselves. For example, when addressing the question of the existence of God, many Catholic apologists use the argument of First Cause - since the universe exhibits cause and effect, there must rationally be a first cause or first mover. To proceed the physical universe, this being must be divine - God. When many atheists reject this off-hand, Catholics often feel dismissed or mocked. Which they often are in this situation. But atheists’ minds, being so deeply ingrained with materialistic, anti-reason thinking, automatically reject arguments that employ reason. This is why they usually reply with “the physical world does not give any conclusive evidence that there is or is not a First Mover, and because God cannot be seen, He cannot be proven and thus does not exist.” Not only do they say the First Cause cannot be known, but because their materialistic focus is so narrow and limited to the visible world, they believe with certain faith that God does not exist if He is not visible.

Reason was the primary tool I used in my conversion to Catholicism. Obviously, reason is not the only thing that did this. Being Catholic is not simply an intellectual pursuit. It is a deeply spiritual life rooted in faith, love and hope, guided and focused on God and His Church. Ultimately, these were the deciding factors in my conversion. However, without reason, I would have remained an atheist. Christ Himself used reason, as did the entire Bible. The reasoning of the Church when interpreting dogma is infallible under Papal authority. While apologetics should be gentle and reverent, reason should never be forsaken, there or in the rest of one’s life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Philosophy of Torture

Over the past decade, a debate has stirred regarding the US government's use of "waterboarding" - specifically, whether or not it is torture. This has led to a larger discussion about the validity of torture in general. Naturally, the political Left and Right, and everything in between, have different takes on it. As Catholics, we know that the Church disapproves of torture. But what is their reasoning, and is torture wrong even if it gives good results like saving lives? This is a difficult question to answer, like many philosophical questions, but it is one we as Catholics should all have an answer for, ready to "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence“, as St. Peter said in his first Biblical Encyclical (1 Peter 3:15 RSV-CE)

As I said, the Left and Right approach this issue differently. Though there are individual views within those parties, there is usually a general consensus on certain "big topics" like abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty - and torture. From my experience, it seems that most Leftists disapprove of torture in all cases, whereas the Right tends to either approve of it when it gives good results, or leave it up to the lawyers. But as we know, law does not always equate to morality, as in the case of abortion and pornography.

The Right often proposes a pragmatic response to the topic of torture, saying that if it can lead to good ends, the "means" of torture, while normally wrong, are justified by the results. This is especially true in cases of criminality or war. All bets are off towards a criminal or prisoner of war, particularly if good could come from torturing them. By committing a crime or threatening America, they lose their rights as a human. Normal people don't deserve torture, but these people do. For many in the Right, the law does indeed equate to morality, with lawyers and judges as the ecclesial dictators and interpreters of that moral code. While many lawyers and judges themselves don't share this sentiment, many people - religious or not - do.

Despite their difference in philosophical visage, the Left and Right share a common ideology here: moral pragmatism. For most in the Left, torture is absolutely wrong, but not really because it is morally or principally wrong. Rather, they often employ the same pragmatic argument used by the Right: to them, since torture puts the victim in a traumatized mental state, the victim will admit to anything. And so, since torture in this scenario doesn't yield good results, it should be avoided. Not because it's wrong - but because it is impractical.

The problem here is not political, or practical, or economic, or even ethical. The real problem is philosophical. And this is also the reason so many Catholics feel confused over this topic, especially the particular subject of waterboarding, even when provided the Church's views on torture and their explanation. This happens with many Church teachings and leads many Catholics to follow a "situational" morality, where good and evil change based on the amount of pain the victim goes through, or a "privatized" morality - basically saying, as long as I don't see it, go for it. Obviously, neither is right, but more often derive from laziness or confusion.

The teachings of the Church, both moral and theological, are applications of the Church's dogma. This dogma is comprised of God's revelation in all its sources - nature, reason, conscience, the Bible, Tradition, etc. The Church studies this dogma and Tradition, prayerfully and wisely, interprets it with the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, and then applies it as Canon Law. This interpretation also comprises Tradition, catechesis and liturgical practice.

But everything in the Church - from application, to interpretation, Tradition and God's personal revelation - is based in philosophy. More specifically, it is founded in certain specific philosophies, the truths of God. Philosophy is simply love of wisdom; wisdom is knowledge of truth; and God is Truth. God communicates His Truth in many different ways, but fundamentally, His Truth is philosophical. Catholic teaching is rooted in certain specific philosophies, ways of seeing and understanding the world which are gleaned from God's revelation. Teachings such as prohibition of contraception, environmental harm and torture derive from these philosophies.

The Church has a very different philosophical foundation for its views on torture than either the Left or Right. For the Church, torture is wrong because of the inherent dignity of all people, as we are made in the image of God. This dignity requires respect, and this dignity is irrevocable. Even the most evil people retain their innate dignity as people. Not everyone believes this, and even many who espouse it do not follow it in practice or principle.

As I said earlier, to the Right, a criminal or prisoner of war forfeited their rights as a human - including inherent dignity. This removes the rights which extend from dignity, including life, liberty, respect and fairness. Obviously, one must wonder if the hatred of terrorists which burns so deeply in the hearts of many soldiers contributes to their fervent desire to torture war criminals - alongside the wounded pride of politicians.

The Left, on the other hand, has no sense of human dignity going in. They desire convenience and security, but are eager to change when the stakes are high. As I remember, but have heard few others recount, the entire country was fanatically inspired when President Bush decided to invade Afghanistan just after 9/11, with the purpose of hunting down Bin Laden and exacting revenge, while protecting against further attack simultaneously. But when he invaded Iraq, without prior provocation but retaining half of his motivation for attacking Afghanistan - security - everyone was enflamed, especially the Left. They saw no practical reason to help the Iraqi people, and further, they felt it was being conducted improperly. Was it right or wrong? Who knows; neither party bothered to say. That wasn't the issue, for the proper Left or righteous Right (no pun intended).

Despite many Leftists being atheistic, they often follow a form of the "prosperity Gospel". They believe being good will yield good material results - success, power, money, security and honesty. Further, they believe bad actions can never give good results. While in the long run this is true, as God leads everything to good in the end, the immediate results are not necessarily this way. Because the world is in a state of sin, being inherently damaged by original sin, it is often in conflict with the good. Being good does not always lead to success - in fact, it rarely does. Yet many people who willingly pursue greed, vanity and ruthless arrogance are wealthy, healthy and safe. This is not a coincidence - the Prince of this world prefers sin, and so he tries to accommodate it whenever he can, making it as alluring as possible. Even manna from Heaven was dry and light - yet infinitely nourishing and filling.

Living as a Catholic isn't about practicality, success, prosperity or even security. It is about principle - living a life which echoes the philosophical ideals of Christ. Even if something we do, think or feel does absolutely nothing, it means something in principle, and thus, it means something to God. Every action, every thing has a spiritual meaning, and that is the highest priority to God. So, what else should we live by then God's own standard? A life of principle means not using torture because it is wrong, following the Christian philosophy that ends never justify the means - if something is wrong, it is always wrong, period. Even if practical result could come from using torture, and even if harm could come from not using it, we should avoid it on principle, because we love God and wish to follow His Will. Even terrorists deserve the dignity promised to all people, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 RSV-CE)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Error and Forgiveness

Since I'm human, I obviously have weaknesses to sin and temptation, as we all do. But one thing I have noticed in myself, and something I wonder about in regard to all people, is mental error. By this, I don't mean ignorance or mental illness. I simply mean the errors in focus, memory, emotion, reasoning, etc., which we all have. These errors can cause someone to sin, especially a sin against truth. For example, if someone asks of your belief in the Eucharist and you tell them it is the "real presence", rather than transubstantiation - not out of ignorance, but simply misunderstanding and confusion. That is wrong, and can lead the other person to heretical belief. And mental error can also lead to moral sin as well. For example, if someone know that pride is wrong, but misunderstands and thinks that gossip isn't wrong, that is a sin. These are just examples, which could be replicated in many different scenarios.

To me, this is very aggravating. I know that if someone doesn't do a sin with full knowledge, it isn't a mortal sin. But it is still venial and should be avoided if possible. I hate when I sin; it disgusts me and I regret it deeply. I think I should be able to have the awareness and love to not sin, and so if I do sin, it is a personal fault of my heart and mind. This is true, I think, but I often fail to realize that I *will* sin regardless, because I'm human. Self-forgiveness can be very hard.

But from a non-sin standpoint, mental errors also annoy me incredibly - unfortunately, also when I see others do it. Just errors of logic, order, hearing what someone says clearly, reading something properly, etc. I hate it when I do it, and I hate to say it, but I am prone to make fun of others who do it too - and we all do. I have spoken to my priest about it, and his answer made complete sense. It is simply difficult to put into practice. Hopefully through prayer and mortification I can learn to forgive and love, even in the face of sin and mistakes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creative Catholicism

Most Catholics seem to think that to be a saint, to be holy, means to be uniform, to conform to the ways saints have done it in the past. No - being human is being an individual. Everyone is different, distinct. Yes, we’re all similar, and we should learn from others both present and past. But we each have our own unique personality, perspective, ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc. on life and spirituality.

Though we won’t truly create, since God is the only Creator of anything truly new, we create new emphasis and perspectives, highlighting certain aspects of Truth and showing it in a new way based on our unique viewpoint. All saints throughout history have done this - even those who lived in complete simplicity were different. And being new doesn’t mean being revolutionary. It simply means giving a new contribution. Evidence of this beyond the saints is the Bible. Each book is a new experience and a new perspective from a different author.

As Christians, we have an advantage: God, the Author of Creation, tells us His meaning. Life becomes an allegory for Him. While in literature this would give no input from the reader, in Christian spirituality, God is always a mystery, always beyond us in His infinity. Thus, there will always be a new way to see His Truth, and we can simultaneously correspond to God’s message and contribute our own ideas. Most are either too afraid, too humble, or too indifferent to do this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Is Love?

What is love? We often speak of love - among family, spouse, and in discussions of morality and God. Many groups teach love, and indeed, love is one of the guiding factors of most world religions. And love is often delineated, broken into different types of love based on the motivation, object, disposition, etc., such as sympathy, compassion, worshipful love of God, romance, and affection. But all of these extend from the same source, and require the same context within which they live and thrive.

It is often said that human beings are unique from animals, or anything else in Creation, in that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Many explanations have been given for this term throughout history: our identity and individuality, reason and intellect, emotion, and free will/moral conscience. And while many of these may be true in defining the Genesis verse, one behavior separates us from all animals: love.

Animal behavior can often appear very similar to human love, particularly that of a pet, and many argue that the attachment and comfortable disposition pets can exhibit towards their owners evidences their capacity for love, particularly in the more cerebrally developed species. But attachment is not love, nor affection which derives from the providence of necessities. While hmans share these feelings with animals, they are not love.

Many animals also exhibit behavior which resembles the romance between human lovers, and many neurologists posit that human romantic love is simply a chemical which eases us into sexual intercourse, in order to pass our genes on in an endless evolutionary chain. But the physical compellation to reproduce, while exemplifying God's desire for procreation and life inscripted into the bodies of all living things as he commanded in Genesis, is a physical urge and emotional attachment based in the brain. Sexual urges are not romance, nor is romance only an attachment to another individual. But romance is a type of love.

Duty is a key motivation in the attachment many parents have to their children, including the decision to have them originally. Believing it is socially important to have children, or simply wishing to have the experience and the "visionary" life of a "normal family", young couples have children. But over time, as they must raise, support and care for their children, they often desire freedom from it, particularly to pursue one another and their career. This leads to frequent neglect of children, and an irreparable distance between child and parent. True love between parent and child derives from the love between the parents themselves, as does the pure desire to procreate. But many couples are attached and sexually attracted to one another, or simply comfortable with one another - not in love. This lack of love leads to neglect of the child, and frequent eventual divorce of the couple.

Love is affirmation - the great "yes" all are called to make by our loving Father. God is the good, and the life, and the truth - we are called to affirm these things by giving ourselves, our comfort, our pleasures, our possessions, for these things, so that they may be proclaimed and fulfilled throughout the world. By the Redemption of Christ, even that which disparages God can affirm Him by conversion, a flip of the coin so to speak, being burned into purification by the Spirit of Love which Christ ushered into the human soul. By sharing this love with the world, we are the light of God, baptizing the world in the fire of love which brings all to the glory it is destined and intended for by its Father in Heaven. Made by the Divine Intention of God, all the universe bears the purposefulness of His Creativity - especially the soul of man, made in His image as alive, unique, and capable of loving things outside ourselves, despite ourselves, by the offering of ourselves on the altar of the Cross, bringing our impurities into the hearth of His Most Sacred Heart.

We give ourselves in love to others by the delineated forms of love, within their purest context - that is, within the context of the love of God. His Love is our comfort, our solace, and our light. But He is not exclusive - God simultaneously works love in everyone, individually, distinctly, by their own unique needs and situations, always with an omniscient, omnipotent kindness. We share this love in poverty, by expecting nothing of others, but wanting all the best for them, attempting to live as an example for them of God's loving plan for human life and the world. Love is not compliant, or complacent; love is not pleasure or satiation; love is not monetary or possessive. Yet, love can involve all these things, or anything, if done for the good of the person, to further the loving, redemptive work which God is doing everyday, in everyone. By ignoring ourselves, our preferences, biases and comforts in our treatment of others, placing ourselves empathetically and sympathetically in their shoes, we suffer with them in com-passion, loving them as ourselves. By seeing them within God's love, we recognize their inherent dignity as human person and creations of God, in the image of God, deserving the highest respect and love in moral treatment and personal concern.

What is love? Love is poverty, giving all which we are for the glorious affirmation of all which He Is, Loves, Creates and Purposes. The poverty of love is vulnerable; we must open ourselves to hurt, always expecting the best of others, trusting them, never deceiving them or hating them or desiring retribution against them. Love is affirming, not disparaging. Even when an evil is done, the evildoer should receive justice, not revenge, the justice deriving from a love which desires the best for the person, that they may be made to realize their mistakes, repent of them in prayer with God, but retaining their freedom, dignity and life till the end.

God is Love - and God is the Savior of the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Creativity and the Outsider

Creativity is one of the most mysterious and studied human faculties, and countless theories have been proposed as explanation, ranging from deities, muses, random chance, and even mental illness. While it is often limited to the artistic crafts, creativity affects every avenue of human expression, including art, innovation in science, invention in technology, speculation in philosophy, insight in theology, etc.

I believe there is a distinct separation between the craft and creativity, which to me seem too often combined without distinction. Every human activity requires knowledge of it, practice in it, diligence of will and effort, and the mental capacity to comprehend the specific type of task at hand. This is the method of a craft. Each craft is different: all require unique skills, techniques, and mindsets.

For example, art requires a mental affinity for visualization and hand-eye coordination to bring the illuminated, detailed image in one's mind to an aesthetic medium; it requires continuous practice, and the tools of the trade, particularly depending on which art form one chooses. On the other hand, technological invention necessitates a logical mind with prior knowledge of mathematics and physics, as well as an understanding of past technologies and their forms, while like art one must also think within the chosen field of technology.

Creativity is a completely different mode than craft, however. While craft requires learning and adhering to previous methods and information, creativity is the opposite: one must be divergent, unusual, and contrary to what would commonly be thought of. Creativity is being able to look at something, in any field or venue, perceive the preconceptions and assumptions in it, and voluntarily go against them. Creativity is inherently rebellious, actively going against the norm in order to be different, unique, and seen as such.

While anyone can do this, I believe someone who already feels like an outsider or outcast socially, who feels neglected or mistreated, whose self-perception is unusual, weird, different, and "more aware" than others around them, has a natural talent for creativity. This sort of person often becomes comfortable in their ostracism, whether real or perceived, and intentionally seeks to be different and against the assumptions or commonly-held notions of those around them, the "status quo" and "popular groups", often displayed as early as childhood. This active divergence is expressed in creativity, both in the desire to go against the perceptions of one's social environment, and as escapism, using fictitious venues to be creative and different.

Without the self-perception of social marginalizing, differentiation and outcast, coupled with the rebellious desire to be creative and abnormal, I believe it is almost impossible to be creative. At least, one must conjure these feelings to be creative, even in the more scientific or economic crafts. For example, to think of a profitable business venture, one cannot simply know the technical craft of business, investing and the market. It requires creatively thinking of or picking a product to invest in which is both risky and potentially lucrative, going against common wisdom or conservative estimates.

Often, this "creative outcast" is simply an expression of what everyone, even the most conformed, desires to be. Despite one's self-loathing or assimilation into the group, everyone is an individual, unique and distinct from all others, with the desire to express oneself and be different, with special dignity and freedom. But, with the pressures of life, the oppressive cruelty we experience socially from peer pressure throughout our lives, and our own internal desire to be approved of and accepted, we usually give up ourselves in order to "fit in". In our hearts, however, we always desire to be ourselves. This is why creativity, from artists to "geeks", is often made fun of, especially by the leaders of conformity - it is seen as "childish", because one still tries to be an individual, even in the face of social pressures. And accordingly, it can also cause anger problems in the outsider, making them feel superior or more intelligent than everyone else; and the social separation can also surface as isolationism and even social anxiety, hoarding, depression, etc.

Fundamentally, however, creativity and self-expression are wonderful gifts. The highest expression of rebellion against conformity and pressures is Christian faith. By assenting to a truth beyond this world, especially beyond the norms of society even in a Christian community, we sacrifice our own comfort and ease to follow Truth and Love, fulfilling ourselves by self-giving. The light which is revealed is truly seen. By hiding, distorting, or changing our identity, we slowly kill it. But by giving ourselves, we bring our identity into full visibility, and by enduring the scorn and pressures both external and internal, against temptations and hurt, we truly fulfill the gift of individuality as human persons, made in the image of the Personhood of God.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I've noticed a trend in my life that I seem to have exhibited my entire life: laziness. I've never been willing to put forth alot of effort or work, even when it was crucial to my life. When pushed, I can do good work; I actually learn very quickly. But I'm not usually willing to do things I don't enjoy. Math, for example. I'm impatient, another facet of laziness. I want to be a great writer, without study or practice. I want to be a musician, without learning how to play an instrument. I want to go to college, without studying for or taking the entrance exams. I want to be a psychologist without studying it. I want to do things and instantly be good at them and recognized for it, while people who don't live in my lazy, impatient self-delusion have to work for years to earn those careers.

I believe I have talents, and have the capacity to do good things with them. But if I can't get past this laziness, this impatience that seems very childish, I will never do anything. It saddens me that I want to do things and feel I would be good at them, but can't and must do things I hate in order to become good at the things I enjoy, and do them for a living. But that is life, and my complaint is something everyone has to live with everyday. Honestly, I'm thankful to God that I do have at least a faint idea of my talents and desires and some capacity to live them, where most people in the world never have either, and everyone else must struggle, as I must. Some don't even live long enough to try.

Some people idolize and even divinize work, viewing even the most meaningless labor as spiritually good. While that can be true, the spiritual is above all. With the right intentions and goals, I think work can be very good for a person. Persistent, difficult work, doing things you don't enjoy in hope of an outcome you desire, I think can be good, as long as one remains humble and thankful to God. Often, this kind of work can make the person arrogant, thinking they earned the outcome purely by their own effort - which is of course silly. Without God's providence of health, opportunity, assistance, and everything else, no one could do anything. So spiritual things must be the highest priority. But as many Christians recognize, especially the monastic orders like the Benedictines, work can be good. Hopefully I can learn this and keep it in mind in the struggles of my life to come.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Christ and the "Beloved Disciple" of John's Gospel

In the Gospel According to St. John, he frequently uses a term for an apostle who is only called by it throughout the memoir: the beloved disciple, the disciple who Christ loved, or a similar form. Christian Tradition has always held this disciple to be St. John himself, but a definitive explanation for his usage of the phrase has never been given, only many alternatives.

While attending Good Friday Mass, the reading included the account of Christ's Passion as recorded in St. John's Gospel. In it, Christ says to his mother Mary, while indicating the beloved disciple, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple directly, He said, "here is your mother." (John 19:26-27) By this pronouncement, He was not only putting Mary in St. John's care, and vise versa. The Church has always taught that He was indicating Mary as the mother of all by that designation, not just John. And I believe that John's use of the simple term disciple rather than his own name is textual proof of this.

Why did John substitute beloved disciple for his own name? Everyone who follows Christ, through faith and deed, is His disciple; the apostles were disciples, but Jesus had many disciples other than the apostles, just as many in the Old Testament were Israeli without being the head of one of the Twelve Tribes, and just as a diocese has one bishop but many members. Furthermore, John did not say, "the disciple who Jesus loved especially," or "more than the others"; he simply wrote, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Well, Christ loves all of His disciples, so giving it that adjective definition was not enough to distinguish the identity of the mysterious disciple - by all appearances.

In fact, I believe that John specifically used not only the generic term "disciple" rather than his own name intentionally, but that he also said "loved" or "beloved", rather than a more qualitative adjective like "most loved", on purpose as well. All Christians are beloved disciples of Christ. God loves all, but by a Christian's voluntary obedience to and love of Christ, sealed by baptism, we become His disciples, and he loves us all equally and completely.

Thus, I believe that St. John used the term "beloved disciple" throughout his Gospel to give a character in the factual narrative that everyone could relate to personally, and also as a model of a good disciple - which the indicated disciple himself, John, certainly was. Now, for all readers of John's Gospel, we have someone to live through vicariously, to put ourselves in the place of and truly live the Gospel.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Modern Philosophy

In modern times, the majority of Western people's worldview is based on, or influenced by, a philosophy of modernism deriving from the thought of different philosophers and movements begun in the Renaissance, primarily with the philosopher Francis Bacon, and developed over time with philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche, Karl Popper, and many others. They began and developed a worldview founded in a sense of atheism - or, rather, a type of humanism, replacing God with man. Though some early modernist philosophers had some form of belief in God, as Galileo and the American Founding Fathers did, it was still a worldview centered on man, with God as a removed entity - i.e., deism, with God being detached from the world and simply establishing its fundamental scientific reality. Gradually, the philosophy of modernism has become increasingly humanistic in the sense I have defined, relegating God to the point of non-existence.

In the Renaissance, several changes occurred that inspired this philosophical change from the scholastic Catholic worldview of the Middle Ages, which was based primarily on ancient Greek and Roman philosophy in combination with Christian faith. As the Black Plague ended, commerce grew heavily, with merchants even replacing nobles as the leaders of nations. This increase in money created a mindset focused on man and nature, rather than God. Art expressed this philosophical change, and the beginning of modern science, politics and economics drove it. Another development of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, though not usually thought of as a Renaissance-inspired movement indeed was. The Reformation was inspired by a sense of nationalism and rebellion against religious authority, best expressed by Luther and Anglicanism, as well as a puritanist moralism expressed by Calvin that also contributed to future modernistic philosophies.

Over time, the puritan moralism evolved into the "problem of evil", which atheists used and continue to use to dispute God's existence by citing the existence of evil, imperfection and suffering in the world that God does not repair instantaneously as evidence of His impotence and/or lack of benevolance, and thus nonexistence. They also believed that due to the many evils Christian individuals had done over the centuries, it was morally "better" for a society to lack religious belief, again another philosophy of modernism that lives strongly today. Early on, beginning with Bacon, modernist philosophers believed that humanity has the inherent capacity and in a sense destiny for success in all his endeavors. Different thinkers proposed different methods for the realization of this success. Bacon believed science would certainly bring about a perfect world if we would only hope in human scientific progress, placing our faith in it rather than God. And, political philosophers, from Machiavelli to the Communist theorists, believed that through the removal of economic and political "tyrannies" such as class structure, people would automatically be good and motivated towards success, thus denying the free will of man to choose good or evil regardless of his situation. This removal of God and objective morality led to the horrors of 20th century Communist and Fascist regimes.

Though Communism was mostly defeated, modernist philosophy made another development based in previous philosophy but coming to fruition in the 1960s. People took on a worldview based on dualistic concepts of tyrants and victims, oppression and freedom, conservativism and liberalism, religion and atheist self-centered hedonistic spirituality. In that philosophy, most people are victims of some oppressive, tyrannical force, such as religion, business, government, etc., and to be free one must rebel against those forces, and must soothe the pain of their victimization by hedonistic, liberal pleasure-seeking of whatever urge one feels, all such acts "justified" because one is a victim. For example, because of this "tyranny", the "victim" should smoke marijuana, have random sex, get an abortion, abandon their religion and sing/listen to protest songs to be free and soothe their victim wounds. This "hippie" philosophy, combined with the earlier modernist concepts of scientific progress, human will determinism based on life conditions, and the tyrannical nature of religion and objective morality form the general philosophy and worldview of modern people.

Modernist philosophy is mistaken in many ways, and its erroneous nature has been displayed by the evils and fallacies in its implementation. God is Love, Justice, Goodness. Without God, none of these things can exist, and the only reason humans are capable of realizing them and adhering to them is because of God's existence. These traits are the highest spiritual virtues and thus constitute the highest spiritual entity, God. Without God, these things would not exist, and so when God was removed from people's lives, they were left to themselves, and though their conscience and reason kept them from (usually) becoming too far gone for any semblance of goodness, they committed horrific acts in the name of their "progressive" philosophy, and are continuing to do so today with atrocities such as legalized abortion, the death penalty, widespread drug use and pornography, taking away all dignity and even life from the human person and life itself. This will only continue to spiral downwards, and though the Church is a voice "of one crying in the wilderness" (Matthew 3:3), diligently and lovingly proclaiming the hope (the only real hope) of the Gospel to the world, it is the reponsibility of individuals to choose to follow it. We can only pray that they will come to know the love of God.

(Though mostly my own work, I also learned much of this from Pope Benedict XVI's wonderful encyclical, Spe Salvi.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Psychology of Sin

The human body, mind and soul are all deeply interconnected. Every change of one affects the other in some way, often not immediately perceptible, but crucial nonetheless. When we make decisions, experience events in life, come to a deeper spiritual connection to God, and all the other intricacies of human life, an imprint is left on all three of these attributes of the human person and affect us for the rest of our lives, even if we do not necessarily see it.

Humans also have the capacity to commit sins, that is, to "miss the mark". This means that when people make decisions and choices in their lives, they sometimes do not make the best choice or the one they should have; this is a sin. This morality is deeply rooted in the human soul and is intuitively known in the minds of all people, even those who philosophically deny it, or disagree on its specific cause or meaning.

Throughout our lives, we commit sins of varying degrees, and though we may be forgiven for them (by God, each other, and ourselves), this does not immediately, necessarily, remove the psychological effect of that sin on our mind. Many believe the idea of sin, or right and wrong in any mdoel, to be improper or even damaging to the human psyche, seen as a cold, mechanical judgementalism used by humans for tyranny and abuse on each other and ourselves. And yet, they still live by some type of moral standard; if nothing else, they view the right and wrong system itself as wrong.

Sin is not what many believe it to be, as I have described. It is not merely an objective moral standard, though it certainly is that; it is in essence a deeply-rooted part of human nature that we cannot ignore, and by attempting to, we only further damage ourselves. How does sin damage us, other than the "tyrannical dogmas" of salvation and damnation? It injures our mind, our psyche.

Sin is addictive; it is like a drug. In life we experience stresses of many different kinds, and we are offered sin as a means of alleviating this stress - as a Catholic, I believe this alternative option is offered by Satan, and we have a weakness to submit to his temptations because of our damaged flesh nature. This model also applies to drugs, as anyone familiar with them knows: drugs are used as a temporary perceived alleviation of stress. And at first, the addict does not see any kind of harm the drugs give, or even that he is gradually becoming addicted to them.

But as the high wears off - from sin and drugs alike - the user feels more stresses, and desires that original pleasure to alleviate it. But no future sinful action is as potent as the first, so bigger and more powerful sins - like drugs - are pursued, and we are led to do so by Satan. Over time, this addiction to sin takes its toll on our mind. This applies to all sins, but I will provide a couple examples:

When someone commits the sin of pre-marital sex, or fornication, it slightly diminishes the person's view of the dignity and individuality of the opposite gender, and sex itself. Slowly, subtly, they become nothing more than objects of pleasure for the sinner. This applies to all sexual sins, and one often leads to another: masturbation diminishes the individual's view of the value and dignity of sexuality and their own body, which then leads them to view sex with someone else and their bodies as nothing more than sources of pleasure, as he/she already views his/her own body. This can lead further, to things like pornography, alternative sexual practices, and even more violent sins like rape or even murder (which is itself often a psychologically-sexual act).

This model applies to all sins, not just sexual sins. For example, when someone hates another person, they slowly begin subjectifying that person - viewing them as nothing more than how one feels about them. They are no longer human; they have no inherent value, dignity or rights to life or personal responibility for their actions. They are simply a personal offender and deserve hatred. This evolves into other sins of many kinds, and can even lead to theft, rape, or murder.

Unfortunately, many do not see the connection between sin and the human mind - even many highly-intelligent psychologists often miss it, whether intentionally or not. Some do it for good intentions, viewing good and bad as harmful to the human mind as a philosophy. But truth must come before all, and while some moral models (or lack thereof, which is itself a moral model) may appear more ethical or compassionate, they are in fact harmful and incomplete forms of true Catholic morality. And while people follow those incomplete moral philosophies, their minds will be harmed. Their practitioners, and the victims of all psychological sin disorders, deserve deep prayer and love, as do all.

God bless.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The English Tragedy

I love England. Its culture, history, landscape, accents, character, and the myriad other great qualities it possesses. But it is deeply tragic that England has been separated from the Catholic Church, and for so long, with never a truly meaningful reason for their disunion. The English people before King Henry VIII had a long, rich heritage of inspiring Catholic faith, even up till the very end with St. Thomas More, an exemplification of their capacities for holiness. Because of their estrangement from the Catholic Church, England has slowly seen a degradation in their moral and spiritual depth as a people. Fortunately, the Anglican communion attempted to mirror the Catholic Church, which gave them a sense of dignity that has gradually degraded over time. Now, they seem to be spiraling into near-libertarianism, permitting anything and everything. But, England is not evil, and is not completely immoral. They are still generally good people, as are all humans. They still have a conscience, decent social laws and remnants of their Catholic-esque sense of dignity - these factors guide the English people to be, for the most part, good. But their free permission of so many things - which then equates to the degeneration of their interest in things like charity - is tragic, and it ultimately derives from their separation from the Catholic Church. Naturally, immortality has existed in all cultures and human arenas throughout history, even in the Catholic clergy. So England being Catholic did not and would not prevent immorality. But without a reason or motivation to be moral, both in the sense of avoiding sin and acting charitably, especially when it may cause personal suffering or loss, requires a specific spiritual motivation that England lacks. And the longer they lack it, the less moral they become, as does any nation. Europe as a whole is falling into this pit that began to be dug in the Renaissance, particularly by the Reformation. There is hope, however. As I said England, and all of Europe, still has good people in it, many of which are spiritual even if they are not Christian. And recently, a large group of Anglicans rejoined the Catholic Church, which is truly a great victory for the Church and England. We can only pray that England's inevitable pitfalls from its growing immorality can be avoided and that it can be reunited with the Church, or at least to some sense of Christian morality and spirituality. God bless.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Purifications During Lent

As most Catholics are aware, it is traditional during the Lent season (the 40 days prior to Easter) to try to cleanse ourselves of sinful habits we have formed, particularly one that is most bothering us. All Catholics have such habits of course, even the most highly devout - even saints had sinful habits they had to work on. It is apart of being human; we all require salvation. And through admitting our faults and proceeding to work on them, we build our character and virtue, as well as our connection with God, one another, and ourselves in love.

I did not come to the Church from birth. I became Catholic through RCIA. Before that, though I did have some conscience taught to me by my parents, I had no religion; I lived as I wished, and was largely unrestricted. During this time, I was also primarily atheistic. I developed many sinful habits over that period that deeply wounded me and still haunt me now, that I must work on daily - things I am ashamed of, both visible and secret sins, and that I must continuously pray for God's help to get through and unlearn. I am still trying to find the best method to train the mind to forget these habits and replace them with virtuous living, and I pray everyday that I will be able to work through them and that anyone else dealing with such things - as all people do - may work through their sinful habits as well.

As an ongoing work, and as an opportunity to intensify my effort, I am trying to use this Lent season to purify myself of these sinful habits, erroneous mindsets and lifestyles that I have established. It is incredibly difficult, and requires constant diligence and force of will to overcome. By God's help, I feel I am making progress. But it invovles confronting my problems directly, face-to-face, not making a mistake and ignoring or avoiding it but facing it - otherwise, I will never understand my problems, and thus can never overcome them. This is particularly difficult, as these confrontations sometimes cause me to be deeply depressed or angry and sometimes lose sight of God. But once I have contemplated my problem, understood it, I then not only return to God fully, but in a deeper way, with a clean heart. As Christ said, "The pure of heart shall see God," and as John Henry Newman taught, our faith and character are strengthened when we face our doubts and habits, and overcome them. I attempt to follow this as best I can, with the prayerful guidance and aid of God and the saints.

In RCIA, I actually looked forward to being able to utilize the Sacraments and the direct spirituality they grant to repair my sinful habits. During RCIA, I realized what I did was wrong, but often lacked the spiritual support or personal will to overcome them. But since I have been fully in the Church, I feel the Holy Spirit's guiding hand in my life, aiding me with my prayers and intentions to be better, and I adore the cleansing, healing power of the Sacraments as the Body of Christ nourishes my body that is filled with the wounds of sin, and the water of my Baptism and fire of my Confirmation cleanse me of my habits. Many talk about this process as immoral, too difficult or undesirable, as a reason for them to not be Catholic. But to me, I longed for the chance to be rid of my sinful habits while in RCIA, and am deeply happy with the chance to literally pursue this desire as a full member of the Body of Christ.

I offer up my prayers in the fullness of my spirit for all those this Lent season struggling to live through, deal with and overcome their sins and sinful habits, and I ask the wonderful, beautiful, caring and gentle Virgin Mother Mary to intercede for me.

God bless.