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.
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.