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

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.