Faith, Science, and Halloween

Years ago, the big thing at Halloween was receiving the annual Jack T. Chick tract about how Halloween was one big festival of the satanic.  Fitting, since All Hallow’s Eve is a Catholic holiday, and we all know how Jack T.C. felt about Catholics. (If you don’t, and want to be amused by a tour through the weird and creepy this Halloween, Jimmy Akin’s book on the topic is just the thing.)

Concern about the demonic is why certain evangelicals shy away from Halloween — they know that Satan’s real, and they aren’t taking any chances.  A commendable (if misguided) course of action.  Our wider culture takes a different tack: Everything spiritual is one big game of pretend.  If we have a spiritual life, it’s about feelings and perceptions, comfort and customs, which are all rooted in nothing and all come to nothing.

The Catholic view is found in the opening lines of the Creed: “I believe in one God,  the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

All things.  The demonic is real — if invisible — and since it is merely a distortion of God’s own creation, it is not beyond the reach of God’s power.  Catholics have a healthy respect for things bigger than ourselves, whether of the spiritual realm or the purely physical.  (Earthquakes? Tigers? Lots of big things out there that no amount of good feelings will pacify.)  If we can mock Satan on the eve of All Saint’s Day, it’s because we’re the little kid standing behind God the Father saying, “Yeah! Go get him Dad!”

But our contemporary culture is, as I said, fundamentally atheist — within the pews and beyond it.  Spiritual = Invisible = Pretend, we say.  Which is funny, because we don’t think love is pretend, though we might have a poor grasp of what love is.  And we don’t think gravity, or atoms, or radiation are pretend.

But weirdly, people think that Catholics — who are so crazy as to believe in invisible things like demons and angels and God and Heaven — don’t believe in invisible things like laws of science, or the biological origin of the species.  It’s as if they think we’ve used up our invisible-things card, and can’t fit any more of the unseen into our little brains.

Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge

On my shelf right now is one of Midwest Theological Forum’s latest releases, Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge, by Christopher T. Baglow.  The book is excellent — intelligent, readable, and thorough.  It lays out the philosophical trends that underlie the myth that faith and science are incompatible, and digs into the historical reality about science and the Catholic Church.  There is of course a long list of Catholic scientists and their works; there are as well a number of supplemental readings that include quotes from those who oppose the Catholic faith.  The most interesting passage for me has been the explanation of the historical context behind the writing of the 7-day creation account in Genesis.  It’s a bit of literary history that I’d never heard before, and that clarifies much.

Skeptics note: The final chapter proposes a theory that harmonizes the Catholic teaching on the origin of the human species with the current findings in paleontology.  It will most likely be an outdated theory in a decade or two, but that’s because the science will be brought up to date; the theology that goes with won’t be changing.

Conservative Alarm Bells Note: The author uses the term “myth” to refer to the literary genre of parts of scripture.  Coming from MTF, you can be certain the goal is not some bit of pseudo-Catholic new age propaganda; it’s a literary term.  That said, if you’re a strict 7-day creationist, this book is not the one that supports your opinion.  I say the book is well worth a read even for those who are quite satisfied with seven 24-hour days (some of them sunless) and a young earth.

Who should read this book?  I think the glory days of the Chicklets are fading fast.  In the century ahead, we’ll still have our arguments with assorted evangelicals who doubt this or that tenet of the Catholic faith.  But what I’m seeing today, and thus what informs my own teaching anymore, is that rampant atheism, and atheism’s pew-infesting brother faithy-ism, are on the ascendant.  I don’t think you can consider yourself a well-informed Catholic if you quail in the face of the anti-science accusation.

The book is written at a sustained high school level.  It is readable, but it’s not spoon-feeding.  It’s reasonable to expect that anyone teaching the faith above about a third-grade level be able to read the book, comprehend it, and teach the basic principles to others.

–> I realize there are those whose work in evangelism and even catechesis is primarily rooted in kindness and generosity of spirit, and not so much in academic achievements.  So be it.  Let there be someone in the parish who can read this book, or one like it, and translate the essential arguments into clear teaching for those who simply aren’t going to open a textbook.

About Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists, and vice president of the Catholic Writers Guild. In addition to her pile of Catholic writing for Patheos, you can find her at CatholicMom.com, New Evangelizers, and Amazing Catechists. When she isn't blogging, teaching, or complaining about something, she likes to play outside.

  • Sven2547

    Spiritual = Invisible = Pretend, we say. Which is funny, because we don’t think love is pretend, though we might have a poor grasp of what love is. And we don’t think gravity, or atoms, or radiation are pretend.

    I fail to see what point you think you’re making here. You claim that contemporary culture thinks “invisible=pretend”, then you completely contradict yourself by listing four invisible things that contemporary culture recognizes and acknowledges as real.

    Contemporary culture doesn’t consider “invisible” things to be imaginary. Contemporary culture considers unproven, unverifiable, completely-indistinguishable-from-nothingness things to be imaginary. There is a significant difference. Carl Sagan described it best, when he wrote about the “dragon in the garage”.

    • Jennifer Fitz

      Sven – I gather you’ve followed my logic without even realizing it, because your second paragraph shows a keen understanding of it. If I understand you correctly, the only thing we disagree on is the precise list of which things must be relegated to the imaginary.

      Though my post here concerns a book about faith & science, allow me to point you in a different direction: When evaluating the reality of the claims about persons and events, we look to the proofs of history. Completely different realm of inquiry.

  • Sir Mark

    You know, of course, that lots of Protestants recite the creed. They believe the opening line, too.

    • Jennifer Fitz

      Sir Mark – Yes. The nuances of that are beyond the scope of this blog — might be an interesting topic for elsewhere on Patheos.

  • Noah Smith

    Is contemporary US culture atheist? A country in which 80% declare themselves to be Christian? I’m from the UK which has a much lower religious population and even here the culture isn’t atheist.

    • Jennifer Fitz

      Noah, You pose an important question. As an agnostic, I found my own corner of the world oppressively Christian. As a Christian, I find it dreadfully atheist. I think I was right in both cases, for this reason: When you feel (or think) something strongly, you are are that much more aware of others who feel (or think) the opposite.

      What I see in the US is religion as a comfortable veneer, but underneath it lies a core of unbelief. Which you’ll see me call “faithy-ism”. It’s religion on top, atheism under.

      • Noah Smith

        Thanks for your reply, I think I understand your concern. However if I may say so, that’s quite a idiosyncratic understanding of atheism. But atheism is a specific definition. Rather than atheist wouldn’t it be fairer to view contemporary American culture as being “unchristian”? My problem is viewing the ills of American society as being atheistic. So to use another example: whatever our views on Islam (and I’m not it’s biggest fan), I think it would be fair to say that Al-Qaeda isn’t a fair reflection of the religion which is held by the majority of Muslims. But just because Al-Qaeda is un-Islamic doesn’t make it atheist.

        A religious culture which fails to live up to its founder’s creed isn’t atheist, it’s just a religious culture which fails to live up to it’s founder’s creed.

        • Jennifer Fitz

          Noah – Actually, I am referring not to bad behavior, but to an underlying lack of belief in God. So, Atheism. Or, perhaps you are correct, maybe it is something more like a partly-paganism, in which rather than believing in the God that actually is, we tend to worship some lesser god who suits our tastes.

          One of the bits of data that supports my theory, is that the moral code of what I jokingly call “faithy-ists” more or less lines up with that of my atheist friends. Which is logical — if your starting point is not revealed religion per the Catholic tradition, but a more a secular humanist POV, no real surprise that you more closely match other secular humanists.

          FTR, I know very many good, honest, morally commendable atheists and agnostics — I assume the reason they are unimpressed with we Christians is because they behave better.

    • Joe

      The US is a country that has turned the date that we celebrate Christ’s birth into a materialistic abomination, where jingoists (many of whom claim to be Christian) support torture and America’s absurd attempt at empire, where we ship all kinds of manufacturing jobs to China and destroy entire families, and where “Christian” conservatives beat up on the poor regularly for needing food stamps.

      Declaring oneself Christian and being one is very different. And people who actually try to be Christian might as well feel as though they are in a country of atheists.

      • Noah Smith

        Thank you. So bad religious practice is atheist? So if a priest rapes a child he is no longer a Christian but an atheist? What you’re describing are people, whether believers or not, acting “unchristian” not atheist.

        Yourself and the author seems to be engaging in a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. A Christian failing to live up to the tenets of Christianity and to the teaching of Jesus Christ is a bad Christian not an Atheist.

        What’s atheist about torture, beating up on the poor and outsourcing jobs to China?

        • Jennifer Fitz

          Okay – I see where you’re coming from. Let me clarify: In my loose and free-ranging review above, I’m responding in part to some intra-Christian-culture problems. Without wishing to bore you, here’s how I’d lay it out:

          -When you catch me, Jen F. Catholic, behaving terribly (it happens), you could say, “Jen! You’re a bad Catholic!”. And I’d have to admit it, however grudgingly. I’ve got a standard and I’m not living up to it. That’s a bad Catholic, not an atheist or some-other-thing.

          -When you catch a someone behaving in some way clearly contrary to the teachings of the Catholic faith, and you tell that person, “Hey! You’re being a bad Catholic!” if the answer you get is along the lines of, “I don’t have do what the Church says! Who are they to tell me what to believe?!” You would reasonably conclude . . . I think maybe this person isn’t Catholic.

          And I’d conclude that regardless of what affiliation they chose.

          That’s all. Does that make any sense? I’m sorry I’ve thrown you such a curve.

          • Noah Smith

            Oh I understand a bit better. I think. And there’s no need to apologize, I enjoy being exposed to different p.o.v


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