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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

St. John's "Beloved Disciple"

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.

House of Straw

Catholicism and atheism have two different types of philosophical foundations. While the former is based in the use of arguments which propose "positive" views - affirmative or creative, rather than detracting or denying - the latter utilizes a "negative" form of proposal. Atheists are not stereotypical or generic as many Christians vilify them to be, but as a philosophical belief system, atheism is founded on certain ideas which all atheists share, and which lead to their more positive beliefs.

The claims of Catholicism are affirmative: God exists; Christ lived, died, was buried and is resurrected; the Sacraments dispense grace from God; angels exist; etc. Any negative claims they make, such as moral prohibitions or the denial of heresies and fallacies, derive from and are a consequence of their fundamental positive dogmas.

Atheism, on the other hand, is based in denial: God doesn't exist; nothing immaterial exists; Christ possessed no supernatural quality; sin doesn't exist; resurrection has never and will never occur; miracles are fake; etc. All atheists share these claims, which are fundamentally negative. They deny, rather than affirm, propose or create, unlike Catholic dogma. And like Catholic beliefs, whether negative or positive, ultimately derive from these essential denials and depend upon them. As long as a positive version of their denials exist, they must continually deny it in order for their beliefs - negative and positive - to be valid. Otherwise, the existence of God is not a topic which can be believed in or denied with any real dedication, causing all their arguments to fall through.

Positive assertions, however, do not depend on negative assertions for their existence. While no negative proposal can be truly new, as it depends on the positive idea it is denying, affirmations can be wholly new and original, giving them validity even independently of any other factor. The denial of an affirmation simply illuminates it and assures its continuation, as denials must have their source positive idea to survive. While Catholicism or atheism can have constituent or subsidiary positive or negative beliefs, each has a foundation which is either positive or negative, an initial idea and position which determines the quality of all further assertions within it.

The positive beliefs which atheists create in the absence of God or theistic claims specifically rely on the denial of God. In my opinion, most of philosophy since the Renaissance has been the attempt to create a rational worldview without God and the claims of theism. Furthermore, as atheism is founded on negative claims, its affirmative beliefs can never have a true essential quality or substance. They will forever be arbitrary and dependant on the opinion of the individual atheist. While the individual may support his or her beliefs against another's, in truth, atheism itself lends no credibility to any specific positive assertion. A negative idea is solitary. Unlike affirmations, a denial has no necessary consequences, as the possibilities of a worldview without that which it denies are endless. For example, the denial of a theistic God does not guarantee that there is a spiritual force in life; it doesn't specify the nature of spirituality, or whether there is anything supernatural or not; and it gives no consequential message about the moral or theological, even the philosophical, aspects of life beyond its denial. The consequences of denials remain in the hands of the atheist to determine, an authority which many atheists seem to prefer to the magisterial authority of the Church or a similar religious institution.

Truly, I believe Catholicism is the only religion or philosophy with a purely affirmative foundation, with any denials being merely a consequence of its positive assertions. I believe this has led to the many wonderful Catholic ideas which have so fruitfully aided our society, such as humanistic principles, objectivity in science and academia, and the need for a just and impersonal standard of law. Further, the ultimate hope and certainty of all Christians is the eventual time when all the universe will be fully affirmed, all negativity removed and everything fulfilled to its truly intended state - the Kingdom of Heaven, the Redeemed Earth, and the Resurrection of Humanity. Christ is the penultimate affirmation, guaranteeing all God's promises and displaying the fullness of His love in His salvation from the negativity of sin. As Christians, we are called to live this affirmative life of love in the certain hope of resurrection, the knowledge of redemption, and the conversion unto salvation.

Irrational 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.

The Hope of the Old Testament

The Bible is the most printed and read book ever written. It is also the most complex and significant book of all time. To act as a witness to the Tradition of the Church which preceded the Bible, it required infallible, inspired hands to write it with the depth and perfection required for the Holy Word. The Old Testament, often called the Law or simply the Scriptures by Jews, was once the only Bible. It is at least three thousand years old, with the events it details stretching back to the beginning of the universe and humanity.

There are many "senses" to Scripture - three, in fact. While it is not the intention of this article to delve into that specific topic, it should be noted that the Bible is too complex and intricate to be read only at face value, as some suggest. To do so is to overestimate oneself and underestimate the spiritual depth of the Bible and God Himself. The Bible of course is a recording of events and truth which preceded it, but in order to record and elucidate on them it must employ the widest possible range of literary senses and techniques. Furthermore, things such as historical context, religious usage and reference to other Biblical passages must be taken into account as well in the interpretation of Scripture.

Jews did not simply write the Old Testament to record history. They believed the events, and their own thoughts and experiences, to have spiritual importance and so were inspired by God to write them down. Each book of the Old Testament had a different author and/or style - genealogical, historical, prophetic, proverbial, poetic, etc. Each of these styles had a specific religious aim in mind, to describe a different aspect of Truth and God's revelation. The New Testament shows us an even greater depth to the Old Testament and an underlying thread which ties all of it together - Christ.

Christians often say this: Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. But what does this mean? To answer this, we must understand that Jews in the Old Testament were unified by a common belief: hope for the coming of the Messiah, of God's salvation of the world by replacing sin with redeemed perfection. Obviously, they did not know the specific plan God had in mind, even His prophets. But God revealed things to the Old Testament saints which prefigured Christ and the entire Gospel, as is St. Paul's use of the term (Romans 5:14, 10:4). This hope for the Messiah's redemption and fulfillment, for Him to make their pious desires and pursuits whole and purified, underlies every aspect of the Old Testament, even that which was not intended to be prophetic. Often, even negative and incomplete images of Christ in the Old Testament still prefigure Him, as Christ simply redeemed them into fullness.

From the beginning of the Bible this is the case. God made man in the image of Himself - this is a prefiguring of Christ who is the full image of man and God at once and thus lends spiritual dignity to humanity. He then created Adam who was the first man, leading to the life of all others, prefigures both Christ's salvation unto eternal life of all humanity and, by Adam's original sin, Jesus' sacrifice which revoked this penalty and promised a cleansing of its effects. The flood of Noah prefigures baptism, while his ark represents both Mother Mary as the ark of the Word and the Church as the house of refuge for all. As St. Paul explains, the blood of the Passover of Moses prefigured the Eucharist, where those who have received the "mark" of Christ's blood will be passed over on Judgment Day (1 Corinthians 5:6-5:8).

The Promised Land, while also physical real estate, prefigured the universality of Heaven, as well as the Universal Church. Originally in the Promised Land, Jews had no king - they simply lived according to the Law of Moses directly, another image of Heaven. But eventually they requested a king. The song of the coronation of a king, as recorded in Isaiah (9:1-6), while talking about a very real and ultimately sinful human king, prefigures Christ the King in its hope for a true King who would rule the universe with perfect judgment.

In Old Testament Judaism, the Jewish congregation is called the Church, from which the Catholic Church proceeded. This Jewish Church possessed very similar rituals, procedures, readings, venerations and overall liturgy to the Catholic Mass, especially Jewish services at the Jerusalem Temple. The Bread of the Presence was kept in the Tabernacle, where it was believed God's real presence resided continually. Candles, incense and holy water were used for effect and symbolism. An altar was used for sacrifices, where it was believed the pouring of the blood and consumption of the body of a living thing would forgive sins by taking one's judgment onto itself - obviously prefiguring Christ's Crucifixion and the Eucharist. The Scriptures were given special reverence, read at every Temple service. These and many other features explicitly prefigure Christ and His Church. The Church, being universal and redeemed, simply takes the Jewish format and illuminates it with Roman and Christian traditions which do not truly violate the fundamental Jewish fabric.

Many would consider the use of this "typology", as the study of prefiguring is called, as "cheap", simply reading into it what we desire as Christians to validate our beliefs. While this goes against Christ's lordship of the entire Bible and insults our integrity, it also evidences an ignorance of the centrality of Messianic hope in Old Testament Judaism I described above, from which all their beliefs and practices derive whether consciously or not. Further, this is not simply a Jewish phenomenon. Fulfillment of prefiguring was used evangelically by the Church as she encountered new cultures and religions, seeing figments of the truth in them and illustrating Christ's fulfillment of them. For example, by studying the mythology of the Viking Norse culture, the Church saw a lack of hope, as the Norse believed the world would eventually end in a war that would destroy humanity and the gods forever. The Church answered this with Christ's triumph, and without coercion or intimidation, the Norse acknowledged this and began seeing Christ as the heroic All-Father deity who defeated evil and saved the world, just as He truly did.

Christ commanded us to "search the Scriptures" for Him - to discern the prefigured images of Him and His Gospel in the Old Testament. Many Christian congregations since the Protestant Reformation have abandoned their Jewish liturgical heritage, as well as an openness to deeper senses of Scripture. I believe this not only contradicts Christ's intentions for His Church, but also cuts them off from the fullness of liturgical life as God desires it. The Catholic Church is that fullness, and even "the gates of Hell" (Matthew 16:18) will not overcome it. As Catholics, we can share in the Messianic hope of the Jews - both in the fulfillment during Christ's life, and the certain hope of His apocalyptic Second Coming. Living in humble faith by this hope, enacted with contrite love, we can become the holy saints Christ desires.

Tolkien and the Analogy of the Faith

Pope Benedict XVI often uses the phrase "the analogy of the faith". In normal usage, analogy is inferring information about one thing or idea and correlating it to another thing or idea to illustrate their agreement and similarity. It is a central faculty of human cognition and is used in almost everything we do, taking many different forms and applications. But how is Pope Benedict using it here?

Christians, and their Jewish predecessors, have always understood that Truth cannot contradict itself. To be a full and complete truth, it must completely agree and have perfect consistency, explaining everything in existence. As such, Truth must be Divine, making it one aspect of God. Christ called Himself "the way, the Truth and the life". The faith which Christians have received from God by His personal revelation and natural law is the affirmation of this Truth by and in people. By revealing Himself to us as the answer and explanation of all the universe, including our very souls, we are called by Him to affirm and agree with that Truth, to live by it even if it is not always immediately obvious to us. This assent, acquiescence and obedience to the call of Truth is faith.

Pope Benedict's use of the term "analogy" does not truly deviate from its vernacular usage; he simply applies it to Truth as Christians know and follow it, and as all can see it in nature. Because the Truth is perfectly consistent and internally agrees with itself, the revelation which God has given to humanity in Tradition and nature are analogous to this Truth. Though they're separate from God, they reflect with perfect accuracy God's own Truth. By examining and experiencing revelation and life itself, we are able to infer the truths of God, learning the attributes, properties and philosophical meaning of things. From this wisdom, we can see its consistency and yet also its blatant lacking, which through God's personal revelation is shown to be fulfilled in Christ. This is the analogy of faith.

Another deeply faithful Catholic, though slightly older than the Pope, who frequently used the term analogy was the author and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien. Though in theory a part of the same cognitive process as analogy, Tolkien deplored the use of allegory in literature. To him, allegory is creating an entirely separate reality from this one, with no apparent connection to this one, but having no meaning in and of itself. Everything in this other, allegorical world simply represents things here, with only one possible meaning for everything in that other world and no intrinsic meaning otherwise. Tolkien believed this to limit the reader's experience, force the author's meaning on the reader, and betray the mythic literary method of having the other, supernatural, holy world of Heaven reflect into this world and be glimpsed in it through what he called "faerie". For Tolkien, mythic literature should satisfy our longing for Heaven and God's fulfillment of the world and our deepest spiritual desires, not alienate this world from its Creator.

Tolkien utilized two different analogical styles in his works: direct analogy and typology. Rather than having a separate allegorical world, Tolkien placed his literary world within the Christian cosmology, only from the perspective of his fictional characters and races. He created a mythology for his world parallel to the Christian cosmology, only from the perspective of Elves, described in his book The Silmarillion. Illuvatar, the Creator, made all the heavenly beings, the world and everything in it. Soon, one of these heavenly beings, called Valar, became rebellious and prideful, falling from grace and turning to evil, taking many Valar and their lessar counterparts, Maiar, with him. They conflicted with the work of the good beings, who continued actualizing Illuvatar's will. Eventually, some of the evil and good beings took physical form in the world to help or hurt Illuvatar's sentient species.

This is not simply a tale. When asked what God is Illuvatar, Tolkien replied, the God of Christianity. He frequently called his work a deeply Catholic endeavor, and said that it inspired everything he did in it. (See Tolkien's Letters for more information, compiled by Humphrey Carpenter and edited by Christopher Tolkien.) The Valar as archangels, Maiar angels; Morgoth, the original fallen Valar, is Satan; and the other fallen beings are demons, including Sauron. Later, the Istari, who are Maiar, are sent in physical form to unite and aid humanity against Sauron. An allegory would differ. Morgoth would not actually be Satan - he would represent Satan. But in Tolkien's world, there is no representation. Morgoth is Satan, and Illuvatar is God.

Tolkien also used typology. In the Bible, as explained by St. Paul, the Old Testament is full of types - images, characters and events which prefigure things in the New Testament, especially Christ. Noah's Ark prefigures Mary, the Church, etc.; the flood prefigures baptism, Christ's saving blood, etc. Everything means something, often many things at once. For Tolkien, whose stories are historical in time, many things in his world are types of Christian realities to come. This is a bit less obvious than the direct analogy, but no more real. For example, several characters in The Lord of the Rings are types of Christ. Frodo is a type of His priestly office; Aragon a type of his royal office; Gandalf a type of his prophetic office; etc. Lembas bread is a type of the Eucharist, as well as the Old Testament manna. While everything is a type of multiple things in Christianity, they are all types of something from it. Tolkien did this intentionally and considered it an integral part of mythopoeia, his own literary style.

Tolkien helped guide me to Catholicism, showing me through analogy the spirituality and Truth of Catholicism. I consider him one of the greatest and saintliest Catholics of all time, despite his recognition being primarily as an author and scholar. I pray for his intercession, and for the possibility of his Beatification by the Church, as well as for his continued assistance to converts coming home to God.


Many events in our lives seem random, unguided and meaningless, completely by chance. Whether they affect us positively or negatively is attributed to good or bad luck. This practice has been done for as long as humanity has considered such things. The ancient Romans believed in a deity of luck, Fortuna. Japanese mythology has Seven Lucky Gods, and Hindus often pray for good fortune from their deity of money and luck, Lakshmi. The Irish four leaf clover is often a symbol for luck, and esoteric practices such as numerology, astrology, and palmistry depend on the luck afforded by one's spiritual station in the cosmos.

Luck is, however, contradictory to the religious mind, especially that of a Christian. By attributing an event to random chance, we remove God's dominion over all things, and we also deny the free will and independance of people. Nothing happens for a reason - there are no coincidences, only God-incidences, as a friend of mine is fond of saying. As the Lord, the King of the universe, everything that occurs in His Creation must be purposed and meaningful, and must ultimately meet up with His desires. And in His omniscience, while simultaneously giving people free will, He also knows the future and the effects of our actions, giving Him the ability to make our choices mean something and have a purpose even against our own intentions.

The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, while terrible, involved a miracle, a test of the Pope's forgiveness, and a sign to the world of the beauty of forgiveness. As he said: "Could I forget that the event [Ali Ağca's assassination attempt] in St. Peter's Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet." —Pope John Paul II -Memory & Identity, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, p.184

Nothing is outside God's purposes, even evil, which as the Book of Job and Christ's temptations in the desert illustrates are tests of our spiritual fortitude and, if suffered, builds character and is rewarded with grace. In our daily lives, as we experience pain, temptation, our own sin and the sins of others, we are called to suffer them for Christ's sake, to remain good and faithful despite our troubles. Many experience pain, but few truly suffer. Satan offers us sin as a temporary salve to our pain and so we prefer it over suffering. This is the test we are presented with on a daily basis, in even the smallest things. But Satan is not outside God's control; he does nothing without God's permission, which He gives to test us. The smallest gifts as well, simple comforts and daily rewards, are also given by God, both for consolation, thankfulness to Him, and reciprocal generosity to others.

In a deeper, more philosophical sense, luck is an attitude that creates a worldview. It often leads to the Platonic, Lutheran and Gnostic error that God has nothing to do with this world, which is itself wholly evil and worthless, incapable of showing any sign of God's divinity or salvation. By attributing events to random chance, we are saying that the nature of things, the arrangement of the world, the occurance of events and the Church Herself is random. But in truth, nothing in this universe is random. In truth, things could be different than they are. There are infinite other ways this world, history and humanity could be - yet, there is only one way. And the specific nature and condition of things is like the stylistic signs of an artist represented through the artwork. By deciphering the living spiritual symbolism in the world, by philosophically, conscientiously and scientifically examining life and ourselves, illuminated by Revelation, we can gain a mirror-image glimpse of the Face of God, revealed as His Son, the Logos - meaning, purpose, intention - of all Creation.

Dialogue with Attitude

All Christians are called to "(a)lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." -1 Peter 3:15-16. Throughout history, the Catholic Church has been the foremost agent of evangelism, apologetics and living by example for the conversion and charitable consolation of all people. While I believe these methods are highly commendable, successful and good, I think there is another side to religious dialogue that is often forgotten, except perhaps in living by example: attitude.

Apologetics specifically uses reason, which attempts to elucidate God's presence in the universe through its logical order and philosophical nature, and to connect this with His Revelation, answering the endless que of intellectual arguments and issued posed to the Church. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have intellectual problems that Church apologists, and Christians in their daily lives, try to answer with reason and faith. But the intellect is often not the deepest motivation people have for their worldview and choices. In my experience, their intellectual arguments are frequently a facade to cover their personal, emotional motivations. This creates an attitude that colors the very way they view the Church, and distorts the reasoning until they are completely unreceptive to Catholicism - what the Church calls "invincible ignorance". However, most people's ignorance is not invincible; only preferable to them. All of us, even the most devout, have this problem to a degree, but some let it affect their entire religious and philosophical beliefs to take them away from the Church.

Many people prefer what they were "raised in" over the Church; many have a certain sin or sins which they have a deep affection for and so create logical excuses and doubts to distract from guilt and Christian repentance; many prefer to appear "intelligent", "mature" or "cultured" by not being Catholic or even Christian, this often leading university students away from the faith; and many Catholics let their personal biases, culture and sinful inclinations taint their worldview and actions, whether towards fundamentalism or liberality. Though pride prevents admission of this fact, it creates a rift in religious dialogue and apologetics. When reason is implemented purely as a facade to present intellectual excuses for some deeper attitude problem, apologetics breaks down and is virtually useless, beyond the planting of a spiritual seed in the person's soul.

I believe that the Church should continue publishing apologetic documents open to the public, so that anyone acquiescent to the pull of the Spirit to their true Home can have a resource for their genuine intellectual dilemmas. But I also believe that Catholics should focus on their personal holiness and living by example, being as devout and charitable as possible, while understanding their faith as deeply as they can, only giving a rational response when specifically asked, or in a more open, unsolicited theological publication as "faith seeking understanding" rather than specifically for apologetics. When in a discussion and it is evident that the non-Catholic is emotionally biased, I think the Catholic should "agree to disagree" and move on, praying for the person and remaining open, but living by example primarily.

On Whose Authority

Defining Authority

As I have studied philosophy and theology, discussing those topics with many different kinds of people, I came to realize that one of the key elements in discerning issues of ultimate truth and priority in life, such as the existence and nature of God, morality, and similar topics, is authority. It is possibly the least discussed topic in these fields, even by Catholics, but it is crucial to a proper understanding of spirituality, truth, God, and human nature.

In order to adequately appropriate the topic of authority in its relevance to truth, it must first be defined. Though like all things its definition is debated, I have come to define it as the qualification of someone that affords their opinions greater influence and certainty. This is relevant to many areas of life, particularly in fields such as philosophy, religion, science, politics and power, and daily life, from the authority of parents over their children, to government leaders over their people, to God over His Creation. Beliefs regarding authority have taken many different forms over history, even as informal discussions between those who were not academics or clergy, and modern times are an illustration of that development.

In every field, there are different degrees of authority that people can have. For example, in astronomy, a trained astronomer who has a college doctorate, has published works on the topic, has made important discoveries, and has worked on large-scale astronomical projects such as the Hubble telescope, would be more readily approached than someone who has a basic telescope in their backyard, has no formal training, and only looks at the stars for fun rather than systematic study for their view on a particular problem in astronomy. These more qualified people are often called "an authority" in their field, especially in the most important areas. This means that they are more qualified, and thus their opinions are more likely to be accurate to reality than the opinion of someone less qualified, which gives the former person more authority on a given subject than the latter person.

This applies to every area of academic study, but also in daily life. If a grocery store were trying to hire someone to be a manager, they would be much more likely to hire someone with twenty years management experience in a grocery store and a college degree than someone who has worked as a cashier for a year and is under eighteen. Of course, in the human arena, the normal secular world, it is impossible for people to know exactly who is most qualified for a position in each person's mind, skills and talent. They must go by signs, such as their experience and previous success, knowledge of the subject, and other factors. People will also sometimes allow preference to muddle their recognition of someone's authority, whether intentionally or unintentionally, such as by hiring someone for a management position because they think they are attractive, or they are a family member, or because they could pay them less, rather than if they are more qualified. This makes determining who is truly a higher authority in secular affairs often very difficult.

This method of determining authority based on qualification also applies to matters of truth and spirituality. As in secular pursuits, spiritual affairs have different factors for determining qualification and level of authority. Again, these factors are debated, and with spiritual matters it is much more complex - and important - to assure that the designation of authority is accurate, than in secular matters.

This standard also applies to morality. Although every single mentally healthy, and often even psychologically disordered, person has some sense of morality and conscience, determining what moral system is the best and most true to reality is just as difficult to determine as what is spiritually true. However, authority is crucial in this matter, perhaps even more so than in spiritual matters. Determining what is right and wrong, and indeed discerning if that process is itself a valid one, must be done by properly qualified people; but who is qualified for such a thing? Again, this is based on certain qualifications that should be determined by rational, philosophical study, with a bit of common sense and much prayer.

The Highest Authority

As I said in the previous section, each area of life, such as truth, morality and politics, has different factors to determine who is properly qualified to have authority in their particular area to make their opinions more likely to correspond to reality than someone less qualified does. Although the factors are different in each field, there is one set of qualifications that, if met, give the person who meets them ultimate, perfect authority in all areas of life. Namely, these factors, among others, signify that someone who meets them is divine and, thus, God. These factors are:

1. Omniscience
2. Ultimate originality (I.e. no beginning)
3. Unending nature
4. Unchanging nature
5. Omnipotence
6. Omnibenevolence
7. Independence from existence
8. Creator of existence
9. Personal/theistic
10. Trinitarian

If someone meets these factors, they are perfect and divine, which is the qualification for being essentially God. By being God, their pronouncements in all areas of human life are perfect, just as they are, and cannot be wrong or superseded by a higher authority, as none exists. God is the highest authority in existence.

Usually, however, God primarily makes statements in areas of truth and morality, and leaves other fields up to human judgment. But God perfectly loves, and because of this, He did not wish to leave people alone in their limitation and imperfection to inaccurately prioritize parts of their lives, and especially to interpret what He told them about Himself and matters of truth and morality. And so He became incarnate in the world as Jesus Christ, who has the full authority of God because He is God Himself, and He lived the perfect human life by which all should model their lives. The Lord also gave to His Church, which is His assembly of believers who are united in the Holy Spirit as Christ's Body, the authority of God in infallibility by the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in matters of dogma, presided over by the Pope, who as the pontiff is the mediator between Christ and His Church.

This gift of authority the Lord gave to His Church gives it fundamental authority by the Spirit who guides it, making all of its dogmatic Magisterial proclamations infallibly true. Only by being guided by God directly could the Church have perfect authority in matters of truth and morality. Without this guidance, humans are the only authorities, and so all spiritual teachings would be susceptible to error in truth and thus unreliable.

Because humans are inherently imperfect, as they do not meet the qualifications of divinity listed above except in a limited fashion, their judgments on truth and morality will always be uncertain. Regardless of how well thought-out, well-reasoned, or how long they have existed, they will always be unreliable fundamentally. Furthermore, because of their permanent imperfection, human judgments will always remain opinions, not truths. Even when members of the Church make personal teachings, such as their own book, a statement in a magazine, or a homily, it is not certainly infallible.

Though human opinions may be true in matters of spirituality and morality, it is not because they themselves give the statement certainty, but rather because their opinion corresponds with the natural law of God and the dogma of His Church. And because humans inherently have reason and a conscience, we are sometimes capable of discerning a truth in life by ourselves, but not from ourselves. We only identify it in life and in ourselves; we do not create the truth, or make the statement true by any inherent authority we may imagine we have. Only a divine being, who must be God, has the authority to make a statement, especially regarding truth or morality, certainly and infallibly true. The only reason the dogma of the Church is infallibly true is because the determination of dogma is guided by the Holy Spirit, who is Himself God and thus infallible, not because of the people involved therein. The interpretation and application of dogma by the Church, called Tradition, is also infallible, as Jesus Christ transmitted the authority to establish Tradition from the Jewish priests to His Church, certified by the seal of St. Peter's successor, the Pope.

 Human Authority

God is the ultimate authority on all matters, because He is perfect and divine, which is why His judgments should be followed in all situations, whether His will is communicated through natural law or the Church. Within the Church, Christ established a hierarchy of authorities to govern it in all ways. Because these offices were established by Christ, they are apart of the fundamental structure of the Church, which is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit, not merely political positions; particularly the priest and Pope, from which all other clerical offices derive, with lay-offices and monastic orders being authorized by the clergy.

The authority of the clergy is a direct apostolic succession: Christ, to His apostles, to their successors, officiators, priests, deacons, etc., on through history. The first Pope, as the supreme pontiff, was a bishop himself, St. Peter, as an apostle, but was also appointed by Christ to preside over, lead, and be the head of the entire Church with the Keys of Heaven, which are essentially symbols of papal authority. The apostles were also chosen and appointed by Christ personally, and they were given authority to determine dogma, Tradition, and other Church functions with the authority of the Holy Spirit, speaking as the Magisterium (from Latin magistra, meaning teaching authority). From the apostles, their successors, the priesthood, took many different forms within the Church, based both on practical necessity and on hierarchical authority, such as the parish priest, the diocesan bishop, etc., the Pope being himself a priest just as St. Peter was both Pope and apostle. And the laymen of the Church are those not given Holy Orders, but who believe in the Church and its teachings and who follow it religiously, who are called to constantly strive for a complete spiritual relationship with God in the clarity of purity and the intensity of contrite and charitable love, implemented by the sacraments and by the good works and faith of the individual layman, with their call to holiness being just as high as the clergy.

Since its earliest days, the Church has also had a tradition of monasticism. This originated as hermits, but by the Rule of St. Benedict evolved into monasticism as we know it today. Though it has taken many forms, its underlying principle is to be a visible example of Catholic teaching by taking certain precepts, such as holy separation, poverty, charity, study, etc. and focusing on them intensely, to the exclusion of normal secular life. While not clergy, religious monastics, both male and female, are fully validated by the Pope and are called by God to be a beacon to others and particularly for Catholics, to constantly lead them toward greater holiness and devotion. Due to their disciplined and devout work, they are a high authority in their area of specialty, and throughout history have contributed incredibly to the development of society and the propagation of the Gospel.

Although the secular world is separate from the religious, the latter both takes precedence over and illuminates the former, continually reaffirming that all secular affairs should be ordered towards man and following God's natural law. However, people must rely on their innate, God-given reason and conscience to devise political, economic, justice and social systems. These should be guided by the insights of the Church, with her teachings in mind, and love for God and all His Creation, including the environment, as a guiding force in intention and act, even if the Church does not have direct theocratic control.

In politics, humans are guided by the Church to develop governmental systems that uphold the sanctity of life, dignity, freedom, justice, charity and privacy, and that allows them to pursue religion freely. Governments should also work to assist in the development and protection of other nations, working with them in harmonious community for mutual benefit, and also guarding them from the tyrannical attempts often made by other nations or within themselves. The authority to determine the nature of a nation's political system is of course based on the qualifications of the individual to varying degrees, but because of the diverse nature of politics, these qualifications often differ by nation, the prevailing group and its philosophy therein, which can be based on an endless range of sources, including religion, the specific needs of the citizens, or the prevailing ideology. But, because the power and authority that national leaders acquire is given to them by God alone, political leaders must be respected, especially by those with less political authority than that individual. This is not something to be ashamed of or to rebel against, because it is not who the person is that gives them authority; it is their office that has authority, which comes from God alone. Thus, being respectful to a political leader is merely being respectful to the authority given to them by God, though this certainly does not make the person him/herself infallible to any degree.

In every area of secular life, as I have said, there are qualifications that determine the degree of authority one has in that area, and these qualifications, below God's divinity, often differ by area. In some systems, such as democracy, authority is based on majority rule and popular vote between different candidates, which makes the specific qualifications depend entirely on the preferences of the general populace at the time and on which politicians running for the office most possesses their desired sentiments, as well as any pre-determined requirements for candidacy, such as age. In science, authority is based on their knowledge, aptitude, experience and recognition within the scientific community, in the acknowledgement of that person's contributions to science by other scientists, and fundamentally in the accuracy of their hypotheses.

Economics and the business world has a somewhat different way of determining authority than politics or science. With business, authority is the power and influence one has in the general economy of a nation, and more specifically, in the particular business they work in. For example, Bill Gates, being a billionaire computer program designer and seller, has a lot of authority in the business world, and especially in the computer industry, because of his accomplishments therein, giving him considerable input and recognition in major economic decisions, projects, etc. Because of his incredible economic success, businessmen look to him for guidance, as a model of success, and in recognition of his influence and power in the economy. In economics, the authority of opinion is also relevant, as those with higher economic authority (as defined above) are more likely to have accurate economic predictions, advice, endeavors, etc., than those with less authority, though academic scholars who specialize in economics have similar authority, though their lack of practical experience (if only a scholar) could afford less prestige.

However, success in a field is not always the best measure of authority in it. In, say, art and music, one can become wealthy but not be considered very skilled or creative in their work, and vise versa; someone can make very little money or be unpopular with their work, but still be very skilled at it. This explains the frequent phenomenon of musicians and artists often not being popular until after they die, because perhaps during their lifetime they did not fit the particular styles and fads that made some artists famous, even if they possessed greater skill than the more famous artists of the time. If someone is a qualified, skilled artist, the form of authority they have is not so much in their opinions being considered more certain than those with less musical skill; rather, their art itself is considered better, and they are thought of as a better artist than someone with less authority. This is often determined by pure aesthetic quality, the depth and passion of the piece, and its popularity, whether contemporary or posthumous.

Many believe that art is purely subjective. However, art attempts to creatively express the artist's vision through various aesthetic mediums, for various purposes. Each individual has different likes and dislikes in art, such as a favorite band, book, painter, etc., but the mind of the artist, their experience, and the message they convey is objectively real, despite its symbolic costumes. These objective qualities, as well as the skill of the artist in using their particular medium in a creative, aesthetic way, are what appraisers and scholars of art look for to determine whether something is art, and its quality. In these fields which involve subjective reception of objective things, authority is determined by analysts of those objective attributes, and by the qualifications stated at the end of the previous paragraph.

Rebelliousness Against Authority

Humans are often susceptible to the temptation to rebel against any authority over themselves. This is very common in children, and often carries over as immaturity in adults. Some people act as if they are the highest authority in existence, even above God or replacing Him. This often leads them to prefer to follow themselves and be wrong, than to follow God and be correct, unfortunately. This temptation to rebel comes from the original rebel, Satan, and some people give in to the temptation more readily or frequently than others, though it comes to everyone at times in their lives, and each time we sin, as we all do, we fall prey to its glamour.

This is pride, the belief that oneself is better than others, even God, when no one truly is, and being unwilling to waver in that conviction. Everyone has pride to some degree, though some have it more than others. Hopefully, pride will come only occasionally in one's life, and one should always strive to limit its presence. To do this, however, is a very unsettling process. Once one has rebelled as a teenager against their parents and teachers, rebelled against society as an adult, and rebelled against God as a person, and done so for years, they become comfortable in their habitual pride. They construct an entire lifestyle based around their pride, and sometimes even dream up imaginary possibilities of how they could in fact really be the center of all authority in the universe, even if they know they are not. To change a person like this is impossible, because you cannot do it to them; only they can change themselves, by the cleansing help of the Holy Spirit, who unceasingly invites them to purity, if they will accept it with a contrite, genuine, and diligently persistent heart, through the difficulty such a change naturally involves, with the aid of those around them and the evangelical, apologetic outreach of the Church. But many people are not willing to make this change, and so continue living in their comfortable, prideful error, from which sinfulness derives.

This does not mean that all authorities should be followed with complete blindness, or that all authorities are equal in their authority. But there is a difference between rebelling against an authority, and disagreeing with an authority. Rebelling means that you are acting disrespectfully, absorbing their authority into yourself, and making yourself the center and ultimate end of everything. But disagreeing merely means that while you respect the authority of the person, which as I said before can only be given by God truly or else the authority is invalid, you disagree with the person himself/herself, in the interest of making the authority pure, rather than replacing the authority with yourself. And of course the way one should go about disagreeing with people in each different type of authority varies based on the field; disagreement with God and His Magisterium should never be done voluntarily, as their authority cannot possibly be wrong, and they cannot be more pure.

Rebelliousness against authority as I have described it naturally leads away from truth and goodness, towards sinfulness and error. This is why things such as evil political regimes, sinful lifestyles, and erroneous beliefs while knowing the truth come about. By placing oneself at the center of all authority, one offends God and taints one's soul with individualism. This can lead to things such as relativism, hedonism, and indifferentism.

A Life of Authority

By living a life of authority, these errors and problems can be avoided, and a more harmonious, natural and ultimately happier and more satisfactory life can be led. Authority in all but God's affairs is earned, and one of the purest human pursuits is the attaining of authority in one's chosen field, striving to better oneself towards the qualifying ideals of what one's field considers authoritative. This makes us better people, in mind and body, as the parallel pursuit of spiritual purity grants our soul the same sort of character as any striving for betterment, though its effects are eternal.

Right to Life

Since the legalization of abortion in the US, marked by the Roe v. Wade supreme court decision of 1973, over 50 million pregnancies have been terminated. It has heralded one of the largest Christian, particularly Catholic religious movements in America, the Pro-Life Movement. While many Protestants are also pro-life, Catholics are the primary leaders of this cause, believing that abortion in every circumstance - as well as birth control, euthanasia and assisted suicide - are unjust, immoral and abominatory against God's law, without exception. Most who are against abortion accept it in some specific situations, such as instances of rape or incest, while Catholics believe taking the life of a child is never justified by any evil act that caused the pregnancy, or by the possibility of a good end from the evil means of abortion.

Roe v. Wade was not a random decision, however; the supreme court had a specific reason for passing their policy. They said that, under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, women's right to privacy gives the due right to abortion. This Amendment concerns due process - no state or local government may deprive someone of their life, liberty or property without due process to ensure fairness. Under this Amendment is the right to privacy, which is what the court used to validate their decision. According to them, until birth, a baby is a woman's private property to do with as she pleases. They did not deny that abortion is murder, or that a prenatal baby is human. Many pro-life advocates use these two points in debate against pro-abortionists, but it is futile: they know the child is human, and that killing it is murder. But according to them, it is a woman's business - not mine. If a woman wants to "get rid of" her baby, it's her privacy, and as people often say, whatever you do in your own privacy is your business.

This mindset is reflective of the modern mind, especially in the US. The individualism intrinsic to a capitalist, democratic society naturally disintegrates community - each person is a wholly separate, distinct individual, and any dependancy, mutual concern or involvement is either functional, familial or casual. Once someone in the US reaches adulthood, they become an island in a vast sea of islands whose only connection is being in the same ocean. Compassion, charity and justice dissolve into a high-minded benevolence, the rich giving to the "less fortunate", either out of sentiment or a desire for more workers. And one's failures have no influences or qualifications - if one fails, it is because they didn't work hard enough, make enough money, succeed. Life becomes a ruthless battle of competitive power-grabbing on all scales of society, from schoolyard cliques to sexually promiscuous conquests to business corporations.

Pro-life is not simply a political disposition. It is a fundamental Catholic worldview that derives from the deepest currents of our spiritual heritage and religious tradition. When Christ was born into this world as a living person, He sanctified everything He did - being a physical being, in a body, as an embryo, fetus, baby, child, teen, adult. He is the life of the world. Made in the image of God from conception to death (and beyond), each human person has inherent, inalienable dignity, and from this dignity comes a necessary right to life that cannot be removed - even if doing so might convenience a mother, profit a doctor or satiate political eugenicists. We must love our neighbor - including our children - regardless of the suffering involved, and we must have the courage to stand up for what is right, especially the most fundamental goodness of life itself, even amid persecution, ridicule and personal difficulty - even from those who call themselves Christians. The Cross of Christ is an emblem of suffering and death, but in that incredible courage and sacrifice, Christ gave the greatest gift: life.

Voting as a Catholic

The Lesser of Two Evils: Voting in a Secular Age

    Democracy is one of the hallmarks of the modern world. Developed nations of East and West raise it as a banner of modernity and progressivism, while developing nations look to it either with longing or hatred. Whatever the perspective, democracy is the most popular political format in the 21st century. Nations which once held to imperialism, communism, fascism, and even tribal or theocratic governments now flock to democracy in some form. Although it differs among nations, with some using a parliament, some a president, etc., all hold it as the ideal of a "humanistic" government, whether that is said as praise or deprecation.

    As Catholic citizens of democratic nations, we are all mandated to participate in the community by voting. But we're also expected to have a conscience. As we review the list of voting candidates, we see party representatives. Immediately we view them with some bias - this one looks too old to be prime minister doesn't he? I would love to have a president from the South this time. Wouldn't a Quebec prime minister have a French accent? Could we even understand him? Mm, a woman candidate: ignore her politics, she's fighting for the cause of feminism!

    Catholicism is already highly marginalized, misinterpreted, misrepresented, or all three and more throughout the world, adding onto the bias and confusion we have in voting for a particular candidate. We're told not to let our beliefs influence our actions in the "secular" sphere: but isn't being a Christian a part of everything we do? Does God not care how we run our countries, treat our neighbors, dispense justice and defend ourselves? Yet, the Church also teaches that theocracy - a society ruled by direct Church authority - is not a good thing, and probably isn't good for either side.

    Ultimately, every part of a Catholic's life should be influenced by their Catholicism. While this doesn't mean electing the Pope as US President, it does mean electing officials who will - hopefully - make policies that create a just, peaceful, dignified and free nation which promotes charity, liberty, human rights and the inherent value of life from conception to natural death. Aren't these things the "self-evident truths" the United States Declaration of Independence spoke of? Does it really require being Catholic to uphold such things? Unfortunately, it often does.

    Essentially, talking about politics is not the same as discussing morality, even though they often mix. Politics is pragmatic, functional, meant for the betterment of the common good. Morality is spiritual; it's about how individuals not only treat one another, but think and feel within themselves about life, people and God. Morality is love; politics is practicality. However, Western politics is based on Christian - particularly Catholic - ideas of culpability, concupiscence, justice, human rights and freedom. But didn't these ideas come from Enlightenment humanism and democratic theory? Wasn't the medieval Church only an impediment to the progression of these practices which form the basis of modern secular society?

    That is what most of us are taught in school, even in university. Because our appointed teachers say it, and we're more interested in the close present or distant future - as children should be - we prefer to let them handle it rather than investigate it for ourselves. We should be able to trust our teachers, but unfortunately they often follow a "secularist" agenda. This is a term thrown around a lot nowadays, both by proponents and opponents, but what does it mean?

    Secularism is the desire for a purely secular state, where religion plays absolutely no part in political affairs. It isn't exactly fascist, though fascism was indeed secularist: secularism itself doesn't prohibit the existence of religion in the nation. It only believes religious sentiment has no place in the political sphere. But as was said earlier, Catholics cannot accept this. As Christians, we are called to do what is best for our neighbors, both immediately and the greater common good. If we are nice to our friend, but vote in favor of abortion for a child we never knew, for a mother we couldn't care less about, how hard must our hearts be?

    The proponents of secularism, often posing as teachers in our schools at all grades, would have us believe medieval society was a primitive, anti-scientific feudal totalitarianism, where the Church used psychological tyranny, political corruption and decadence to hypnotize the masses into a Santa Claus-like fantasy world, where the distant God would satisfy all their desires if they would simply give the Church money for a new crown. In this fantasy from secularist history, the Church also burned all books and especially fought against the progress of science and democracy. To them, in the Renaissance, brave scientists and political theorists courageously battled the wealthy ignorance of the Papacy to create humanism, democracy, modern science and the free market, all of which it strictly opposed. As with most conspiracy theories, this is incredibly skewed by bias and ignorance of history.

The State of 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 responsibility of individuals to choose to follow it. We can only pray that they will come to know the love of God.

For Love of Enemies

During Our Lord's discourse on the Beatitudes, He called all of us to "(l)ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27 NRSV), adding, "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:45-47 NRSV)

Even though many can see the sensibility and morality of this idea, to pray for our enemies, it is difficult for our mortal minds to fully grasp and implement. When a situation arises in which this concept could be applied, our flesh instantly calls up grudging anger and resentment towards those who hurt us, making it hard to resist. As we age, our will becoming constrained by the sins and pain we accumulate in our lives, we habituate these feelings. Our will weakens in resistance to them, and so when a new situation arises, we find it even harder to fight against our fleshly urges, even if we know and desire the right thing. Unlearning these habits can be a lifelong struggle, and begging for God's help and mercy for them is most difficult of all.

To our fleshly mind, praying for our enemies, asking God to forgive them, to help them and heal them, seems unjust. Why should someone who harms another person, who does something we normally strive with fear and trembling to never do, be given solace and consolation? Many take one of two roads in response to those who harm us: losing hope in God's justice and becoming bitter and hateful, or losing hope in God's love and becoming despaired and permissive. Both are extremes of a balance only God can perfectly straddle, but we are all called to do so as best we can.

The balance between extremes of mercy and justice is a task appointed to all people, particularly Christians, called to live as God has asked of us. We are to be forgiving, kind, compassionate, while simultaneously just, fair and objective. Anyone in an authoritative office, such as parent, teacher, judge or CEO, knows how tough it is to achieve this balance. Only one thing can motivate us to find and live by this balance, only one motivation true and pure enough to enflame our hearts towards God's will: love.

Meaning in life is determined by connections. Bread is meaningful as food; the fruit of nature; the work of human hands; a creation of God; the host of the Body of Christ. A car is meaningful as a tool to help humanity; as metal mined from the rock of the earth; and, ultimately, as a creation of God. Everything is connected to all else, and so is meaningful - but all meaning, in the end, all connections are sourced in God. He is the origin and giver of meaning. Outside the context of His love, Creation and purpose, all is meaningless and hollow.

Humanity lives by meaning. It is the inspiration for our continuation in life, for our choices and desires, and for our very existence. But there are many worldviews and activities humanity has created which separate us from our ultimate context within God's Creative love. Whether this be the reduction of materialism, disconnecting us from all meaning besides our base existence as matter; or purely economic systems such as communism and capitalism, where one's very worth and value as a human creature is determined by one's financial success and socio-economic status in society; or belief systems worshipping nature, where man is merely one relatively insignificant part of an infinite cosmological machine, our meaning determined by how well we fit in and abandon our individuality.

Made for God, the only thing in Creation made in His image and likeness, and destined for eternal and the fullness of life with Him, every human person possess immeasurable worth and dignity. This is our meaning. We are connected to one another, to nature, to angels and saints, and ultimately to God. To remove or distort any of these connections is to lessen or completely destroy the value and purpose of the human person. From this can only come a life of misery, dissatisfaction, confusion and despair. Without God, we continue to crave the satiation only God can give, the only Water to quench our thirst, and so we attempt to replace Him with insufficient, incomplete substitutes. The Enemy naturally rises to the occasion here, offering the poison of sin in a bright and beautiful wrapper, hailing it as the answer to all our questions and the satisfaction of all desire. And for a moment, we feel as if it is - until it wears off, and we are left with an even deeper hole within ourselves. This addiction to sin is never-ending, and all share in it to an extent. Only by recognizing and opening ourselves to Christ's saving love and certain hope can we receive the grace of peace and true satisfaction.

The uncountable, indiscernible depth of God's love for us and the dignity of being Children of God can be difficult to see and to remember, even about ourselves. On the surface, it seems as if all are islands floating separately along the river of life to the anticlimactic waterfall of death, no purpose, no hope, no higher concern for us. But God "so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (John 3:16 NRSV), gave His very life, that closest and most previous to Him - He came to Earth not "in the form of" a man, but born of a woman, born into a world full of sin and pain, yet without sin Himself. He suffered all that we suffer but more, taking on the full weight of our sins. He suffered more than any could suffer - and, to expand on the oft-said phrase, if only one person had been made by God and had fallen into sin, Christ would still have lived and died for just one. The love of God cannot be bound by our sins, our circumstances or anything else. His love is infinite and beyond all time and place, all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22), not respective of persons. Indeed, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)

If all human persons have this immeasurable dignity and worth, can it be changed or removed? Is it inalienable? Cannot great sins and evil act remove a person's dignity? No - nothing can separate us from the love of God, and this is the context by which we have our dignity. No amount of evil or sin can remove God's endless love for us and the intrinsic dignity this brings. Even people such as Hitler and Osama Bin Laden were within God's attention, within His love and His concern, even to their death. God never ceases desiring our salvation and happiness, no matter our sins. God is also just, of course - in His love, He will not let our sins be ignored. To allow us to choose sin and to never receive the due punishment is to be unfair and unkind to the person. Sadly, some choose to separate themselves fully from God, hating His love and offer of eternal life and thus opening the door to Hell, a fate God never desires but sometimes must give.

How can we, especially Christians, never pray for those who live evil lives? Not taking away the deep tragedy and horror of Representative Giffords' attempted murder, I have heard none ask for prayer for her aggressor. And not forgetting the evil Bin Laden has perpetrated, I have yet to hear any pray for him, or any of the thousands of terrorists, living and dead, who feel into the tragic confusion and hate of their lifestyle.

I pray that the example of now-Blessed Pope John Paul II the Great, who soon after his attempted assassination in 1989 visited his aggressor in prison, talked to him, consoled him, and above all, forgave him, leading to the young man's spiritual renewal, may evidence the true depth of love and mercy all are called to show to every single person, from conception to death, to all degrees of sinfulness, without exception.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45 NRSV)

The Mother of Love

Today we celebrate Mother's Day, in this very suitable month of May, dedicated by the Church to Our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nothing but the relationship between God and humanity is more familiar to us than the mother. In her, we come into existence, gain life and a body. We mature and grow, and the mother protects us from all harm as we come into life, not merely building us a shelter but literally being our shelter themselves, giving their entire body to us for nine months. We share in our mother's air, food and sustenance - in her very life. And, after birth, she continues this role, being the support we can all depend on for kindness, mercy, wisdom and guidance as we grow into adults. With daughters, they even pass on this vocation, passing on the torch of life to a new generation.

Of course, not all mothers fulfill their role, and even though it can be difficult, we must recognize that they are human and just as prone to mistakes as we are ourselves. Everyone sees what "the mother" is, and what it should be. But do we truly understand the depth of meaning and value God places on His daughters, and on His own Mother and Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Blessed Virgin? In these days of the dereliction of parenthood, and especially motherhood, the mother can become distorted or even forgotten entirely. Perhaps, through contemplating all of Our Mother and the true meaning of motherhood itself, we can regain some realization of the beauty and goodness inherent in the mother.

What does it mean to be a mother? It cannot simply be to give birth apart from any other qualification. Even though birth itself does confer physical motherhood, it also involves greater responsibilities and connections between mother and child than mere reproduction. So, then, what does it mean?

Motherhood is characterized above all by love. Within the spiritual heart, love is the most central quality of man(1). Our very purpose for existence, and our ultimate destiny with God, is rooted in love.(2) For this we were made, and without this, we cannot exist.(3) We are introduced to this love before we are even born. The very act of conception is an act of matrimonial love, just as the carrying of pregnancy, giving birth and caring for the child are acts of love which the mother shows to her baby, even within her womb. Despite all the sin and damaged relationships we are all born into, the mother is the enclave of love, the image of God's own creative and providential love for us, a sanctuary to which we can all escape.

It is difficult to imagine a love on earth closer to God's own love for humanity than that of a parent for their child. What relationship is more connective, more affectionate and more obliging than this? Even though the parent does not create the soul of their child, they are parents of the entire person, body, soul and spirit. As noted earlier, reproduction is not the deepest quality of the parent. Rather, it is the fact that parents are the first relationship we have, our first experiences of life and love. Indeed, through family, we first become aware of our purpose in life - to love and be loved - and what this entails. It is more then sentiment, more than an ideal. Truly, "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8 NRSA) To know love is to know God Himself, and through the mother, we receive our first personal experience of God as Love.

In this way, the Blessed Virgin Mary was also the Mother of God. Despite having not created Christ's soul or divinity, just as no mother creates their child's soul or spirit, she was still His Mother in every way. Throughout His life, she poured out herself for Him. From the very moment of the Annunciation, she put aside her questions and submitted fully to God's loving plan for Creation through His Son, without concern for her own prosperity. (Luke 1:26-38) She raised Him through childhood, even risking her life for Him as they fled Herod's persecutions into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-23) And perhaps the greatest example, not only of her maternal love for Him but for her role as our mother, comes from the Wedding at Cana event. Already aware of His true nature and purpose, she asked Him to begin His ministry with a miracle of sustenance - wine, the drink which would later become the host of His Blood. Through Mary, people came to know Christ and His glory - indeed, His own disciples came to believe. (John 2:11 NRSA; see John 2) Mary went with Christ along His Via Dolorosa, through His Passion and Crucifixion, suffering with her Son. And, in the last moments of His life, Christ granted her motherhood towards all mankind - by the reconciliation of His Passion, all became adopted into Christ's family, and so Mary became the Mother of all Living. (John 19-25-26; Genesis 3:20)

May we see the Blessed Virgin as the highest example of the mother, what it should be and what it truly means, to God and for all mankind. Let us also appreciate more deeply the sacrifice and vocation of our mothers, to assist them as best we can, to honor, love and respect them - and to forgive their mistakes, as we expect them to forgive ours. May the Blessed Virgin intercede in my prayer. Amen.


1 " Part 1, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 1, Paragraph 6, SubSection 2
368 The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one's being, where the person decides for or against God." Quoted from the Knights of Columbus website's Catechism search - http://www.kofc.org/un/catechism/search.action

2 " Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 1, SubSection 3, Heading 2
68 By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life." Quoted from ibid. above.

3  "Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 1, SubSection 1
27 … For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence." Vatican Council II, GS 19 § 1. Quoted from ibid. above.

Overly-Scientific Philosophy

Through studying and practicing philosophy, I have noticed a trend in modern philosophy, and which has existed throughout the history of philosophy. By nature, philosophy attempts to define truth by reason. Its "evidence" can vary widely, from thought experiments to the nature of existence, which is why philosophy contains many sub-groupings, such as ontology, existentialism, phenomenology, etc., all of which examine life from different perspectives. By contrast, science examines the details and patterns of the physical universe, proposes a hypothesis to explain it, and then collects as much data from the specific field of interest as possible until their hypothesis is either proven or replaced. This can also involve experiments to verify the collected data or hypothesis, corroborative efforts with other scientists, etc. With science, reason is a tool to explain data - not a source of truth in and of itself. But, to philosophy, reason is not only sufficient, but is the primary (even exclusive, according to some philosophers, like Descartes, Plato, Hegel) method of recognizing and understanding truth.

Truth is different from fact, however, the latter being the object of scientific inquiry. Truth is not necessarily dependant on nature, or ourselves. Truth is higher than nature, and is abstract in essence. Its fullness cannot be grasped by exclusive examination of nature and the events of life, neither of which are abstract. Reason must be used to understand the abstract truth.

But the influence of science, even from the time of Aristotle, on philosophy is evident in the trend I have noticed of philosophers using a more scientific approach, rather than pure philosophical reason. Many philosophers seem to observe people's thinking and behavior, and the behavior and quality of existence, and base their philosophical conclusions entirely on this, without any abstraction or reasoning beyond the evident material. This is science - not philosophy.

Because human beings have a tendency to view good and evil as pleasure and pain, philosophers claim they are the true standards of morality. Because people tend to desire their own happiness above all else, without concern for means, philosophers claim happiness is the central desire and purpose of human life. Since God is invisible, they claim He does not exist. Since nature functions by science, they claim there can be no divine intervention or Creation. Since human behavior can be partially understood by psychology and neurology, they claim we have no soul. Since consciousness is a central part of our lives, they claim that when our brain, and thus our consciousness, dies, we cease to exist and have no afterlife. They claim that since a woman can have an abortion is private, it is legitimate. They claim that if a person is adult, they have the right to do anything they please. They claim that since Darwinian survival of the fittest seems to be the way of nature, it has always been, will always be, cannot be different, and since it is the way it is, it could not possibly be the effect of sin or some other malformation in nature. Since citizens of democratic republic states vote, they claim it to be a full democracy without aristocracy.

These are only a few examples where the use of pure physical data is taken as the entirety of rational information available to the philosopher, or at least the only information with any real validity or importance. Anything abstract is said to be either meaningless or nonexistant, unless it is directly attached to nature, such as mathematics and biological patterns.

Personally, I consider this a sad trend in philosophy. I appreciate and even enjoy the scientific method. But it is not the way of philosophy, and should not be. Philosophy is meant to be abstract - that is its entire purpose, however irrelevant or foolish that is said to be by people. Unless truth is seen as higher than fact, there is no point in philosophy. It is merely a tool of science, economy and politics, a mere shadow of its natural status as the highest act of human reason and, in my opinion, one of our most spiritual activites: the contemplation of Truth. This love seems to have died in society over time, especially in modern times, where the material is all that is important. Yet, we continue discussing issues of truth, as we always will. We cannot escape what we are - rational, curious, sentient, moral beings. I only wish people could see the deep spirituality and the uniquely human activity of contemplating truth. What else could be more important? Even God Himself said, "I AM the Truth". By contemplating truth, who else are we contemplating but God? What could be more spiritual?

The Love of Wisdom

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the [S]pirit of [W]isdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. (Wisdom 7:7-8 RSV-Catholic)

Philo-sophy: From Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία from φίλος (philos, "beloved") & σοφία (sophia, "wisdom"). (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/philosophy)

Few human pursuits are as misunderstood as philosophy, and few words are as misused. Many view it as some high-minded hobby of academic scholars and professors, disconnected from "real life", who sit on towers telling everyone how to live and think. Others view it as a supplement to science, politics and economics, studying the proper methodology for these, at least in a hypothetical or idealistic capacity, but ultimately overshadowed by these pursuits themselves. But there is little more deeply human, more spiritual and more important than philosophy.

As illustrated above, philosophy is the love of wisdom. Naturally, like anything, this has been used negatively in the past, with some using philosophical intelligence as a mark of personal superiority, for money, or for cultic practices. But wisdom itself is the source of the virtuous life (Wisdom 8:7; Plato's Republic and Protagoras). Misuse of philosophy is a betrayal of wisdom and, by disowning love of wisdom, is no longer philosophy.

I believe philosophy has had a tragic history. Despite being celebrated for centuries, it has never been as widely appreciated as it should be. No other academic field is as accessible to the common man as philosophy. Despite what many collegiate or academic philosophers say, philosophy is not based in how many ancient philosophers one has studied, or how articulately one can write or converse ideas. Rather, it is based in a simple love of wisdom, and a desire to rationally pursue her. Not only can anyone do this, but I believe the pursuit of wisdom to be the most essential and important human activity. As a Christian, this is even moreso true, as Wisdom is the path to seeing and knowing God, and to living in virtue. (Wisdom 7:14;26;28 - 8:7)

Truly, wisdom is knowledge of and adherence to Truth. With reason we can contemplate the invisible things of life, the abstract, the moral, the spiritual. As the only fully sentient beings in existence, driven by an insatiable desire to understand existence and our lives in it, to know what it all means, we can think about reality in a more objective way than any other creature. (Aristotle, Metaphysics I.980a21)

It has become increasingly difficult, over the history of philosophy, to view the topics of philosophy as anything more than ideas in the minds of people, our projections onto nature. Thus philosophy is said to govern our actions, our thinking, but that it has nothing to do with reality, which is seen as governed purely by science.

To truly see the objective reality of Truth, the ultimate object of philosophy, despite its understanding being governed by reason, is an act of faith. Truth is not a physical entity, or even a natural law. Truth is recognized by reason, but it is accepted by faith, for anything that cannot be seen or counted as apart of the physical universe can only be accepted by faith. This is why not only reason, but love is so central to philosophy. Love is the motivation of faith, the moving of the soul which empowers us to accept what we know without direct sight or complete certainty, just as spouses has faith in their professed love for one another.

I feel that, over time, love has gone out of philosophy. It has become a study, a science and a field of expertise, yet another facet for specialization. Until love is regained in philosophy, opened to all who love wisdom, humanity will live in starvation of wisdom, and Truth will slowly be forgotten.

On Epistemology

Experience of the physical universe is not received by us as "matter and energy", or "particles and atoms". We do not live life as if it were a rubber sheet, uniform in material and different only in rough or smooth texture, concave or convex indentations. For the human mind, the universe is not just matter and energy - it is distinct forms. A table is not just a collection of specific types of atoms energetically bound together, distinct only in its collection. Those raw materials make a new thing - what we can recognize as "table". The human mind can identify these new forms, instances when raw material becomes more than the sum of its parts, a new thing. We can separate them from their environment, picking them out as distinct realities, with names that not only categorize but individuate these objects. Even attributes of nature not immediately detected by sensory experience can be detected, distinguished and made comprehensible by a name, such as time, life and death, known as such only to the human mind. Only we experience these things as more than yet another set of sensory data flashed before our eyes against the endless cave wall of reality.

This quality of the human mind is one of its most central attributes, if not the most central. It is the root of all distinctly-human capacities, such as abstract thought, symbolism, language, art and creativity, and our ability to empathetically relate to other people not as "it" but as "you". With our distinctive creativity, we can express ourselves in imaginatively-altered versions of our experiences, changing them to fit our internal desires and contemplations. From this derives all artistic and technological pursuits. Even science, rife as it is with categorization, recognition of natural laws and patterns, utilizes this fundamental human capacity, going beyond mere direct empirical experience.

We have even learned to take our capacity for abstract thought to ever higher grounds, using the attributes of the physical universe and our internal lives as evidence for the existence and nature of unobservable truths. With this abstract reasoning, we can contemplate truth and even discuss it amongst ourselves to develop our ideas about what is and is not true.

Our capacity to separate and identify things we experience is directly related to the nature of knowledge and how people acquire and formulate it. Our senses do not "know" what they experience - they simply receive information from their environment without question. Without our cognitive ability to distinguish forms, we would experience life as animals do. Sensory information would be treated according to its direct relevance to us and our internal desires, whatever compels us. We could not treat something as a "thing-in-itself", something with its own existence independent of us. By giving something a name, we are doing just this, recognizing its individuality and, with adjectives, giving it even more distinction. A man is not just "large thing that could potentially harm me or feed me, so I'll be suspicious until I see what it does" - he is Mr. Smith, a chef at a local restaurant, husband, father of two children, with red hair, bright eyes, a confident smile and an air of calm and politeness. Without our uniquely human mind, these factors would bear little relevance, if they were even recognized.

It seems that "knowing" is a step after direct sensory experience, and ultimately beyond it. This faculty resides in our mind. Truly it is difficult to determine whether knowledge originally depends on physical experience or not, due to the nature of our interior lives. Do we know the love of our mother before we are born? These questions naturally lead to the idea that there are different ways of knowing, and different sources of knowledge. One can know something by "common sense" (a posteriori), verified by physical experience without the necessity of deeper scientific inquiry. One can know something independent of physical justification, but still ultimately dependant on something experience of the thing in question - the idea "all whales are large" is independent of experiential justification, being a general statement, but depends on knowledge of whales (a priori). Ultimately, this depth of the types of knowledge proves that "knowing" is more than reception and acknowledgment of information. Knowledge is belief.

To know something is to make a mental idea formulating our physical experience, taking into consideration our internal influences such as emotion, logic and conscience. Distinguishing a car as a car from its surrounding environment, recognizing its distinctive qualities, even without any prior experience of a car we are capable from this very primitive stage of conducting a scientific inquiry to determine what a car is, how it functions, what its purpose is, etc. However, our ability to do this requires even deeper mental attributes, namely, an understanding of purpose, function, normality and abnormality, and the ability to conceptually link all the aspects of a thing in order to understand what it is and why it exists. By examining the material a car is made out of, what its various parts do, we can piece all this information together to see that the car is built to move, and that it is indeed built, being contrary to the way metal objects form in nature. Again, this touches the deepest aspects of human cognition, specifically the ability to distinguish, identify and understand something we experience, and the extension of this to recognize the "agent nature" of other human beings, their shared capacity for invention, use of natural materials, and their own unique goals and desires.

By all of this, what we know depends not only on what we are thinking about, but how we are thinking about it - the basis of our understanding, as well as our purposes for thinking about it. We can distinguish, generalize, identify, categorize, but why should we? What is the purpose or necessity to go beyond reception of sensory information and a biological perception of its relevance? That question is answered every time a human thinks about something, and our desire or purpose for thinking about a particular topic determines the way in which we think about it. If we are thinking about trees, we could simple cycle images of various kinds of trees through our mind without reference to what kinds of trees they are, where they come from, etc. Images should suffice, but they rarely do. Rather, we contemplate trees for a reason - to understand them better, to use them in some way, or perhaps out of an emotional preference for a type of tree or even a particular tree, or even a tree from our imagination.

Our understanding about something, what we think we "know" about it, depends on our purposes for thinking about it. If we contemplate trees, we can come to many different conclusions. We can say, oak trees are beautiful; or, trees are very tall; or, trees live a long time; or, trees can be very destructive if they fall. Abstractly, we can even go beyond this: trees are apart of the living earth ecosystem; trees are distinct, living beings; trees deserve to be treated with respect. Even farther, we can attribute supernatural or mystical qualities to trees, such as a soul, sentience, an afterlife, etc.

To say that one person who believes trees to be merely organic plant organisms, and another person who says that trees are our spiritual brethren in a larger spiritual pantheism, experience trees differently is a biased presumption. The beliefs people derive from an experience does not differentiate their experiences, or the object of their experience. Two people can experience the exact same tree, the exact same way, and come away two completely different, even opposing beliefs about it. This depends not on the tree, but on the way they think about the tree - their methods of examination, their abstract interpretations, etc.

Sensory experience determines little more of what we know or believe about something than experiencing paint, a brush and a blank canvas would give us an understanding of a work of art or its artist. Truly, even an experience of a finished painting is nothing without subsequent mental contemplation and perception. Knowledge is always biased, subjective, personal. There is no "factual knowledge". The only facts we can directly "know" are that of sensory information, and even that modern science has determined to be largely biased by the nature of human sensory organs and the neural faculties that receive and translate them into coherent ideas. In truth, knowledge is almost synonymous with belief. Once our experiences are translated, perceived, formulated and categorized into an "understanding", we make conclusions about those experiences that are ultimately beyond direct experience, since they take into account distinction, identification, adjective qualities, etc., things too often presumed without being seen as uniquely human faculties detached from pure sensory experience. Because of this ultimate detachment, we are compelled to give some degree of acceptance or dismissal, agreement or disagreement with our conclusions. Our standard for what is factual or not, true or not, right or not, cannot be derived from experience alone. It comes from our interior faculties of reason, conscience, logic, emotion, or from some external revelation that violates the boundaries of the senses and touches our deepest nature. But these interior faculties are not, by nature, sources of truth, fact and morality themselves. They are meant to abstractly recognize those qualities in our experiences, independent of ourselves and, indeed, independent of nature itself, above and beyond all, yet directly relevant to and governing all.

What we "know" to be factual, true or moral is thus indistinguishable from what we believe - that is, the way we interpret our conclusions, which we accept or dismiss, how we categorize them as true/false, factual/impossible, and right/wrong, and which we attempt to live by. Our knowledge, like our belief, is ultimately dependent on us, and always obscured by our inescapable limitations. But one thing can be recognized in all this: the human mind and body are not built to create ideas, facts, truths or moral qualities, but to recognize them. Our very nature presupposes the existence of these things and is made to recognize, desire and contemplate them, and to make them the basis for our choices and perceptions of life. Truly, man is spectator to the art of existence, taking part in life not as originator, judge or giver of life, but as a visitor to an art gallery, examining the various art pieces out of curiosity and love, interpreting them, preferring some to others, but having a certain deep affection for the entire gallery as art, as expressions of the artist who made them.

Our life is a life of love, the very heart of our being, the most active (if not the only active) aspect of our psychology, that which determines what we choose and why we choose it. A love of life drives survival; a love of knowledge drives study; a love of one another drives romance, friendship, parenthood. Whether what we love and how we express our love is correct depends on truth, fact and morality, and what we believe about it, as well as the influences on us we cannot necessarily choose or control. But we must always strive to love that which deserves love, and live by that love as far as we may. That is the meaning of the human, and the root of all knowledge.