Judgement Day

A reader has commented that is a lapsed Catholic now an atheist and that he would not want to worship a God who forces people to love him or he will send them to hell to be tortured forever.

Here is my reply:

Allow me to put it this way: if you blow out the light you will be in the dark. This is not the fault of the light. If you turn off the heater you will be cold. This is not the fault of the heater. Likewise if you reject the love of God you will be without the love of God. This is not God’s fault. If you reject the evidence of God’s love which is all around you, you will not experience the love of God. This is not God’s fault. Hell is simply the result of your choice.

God can’t do it any other way. He can’t do what is logically impossible. He can’t force you to accept his love and force you into heaven. The person who truly hates God wouldn’t be happy in heaven. In fact, the most intriguing speculation about judgement that I know of is that everyone goes, in the end, into the presence of God. For the saved it is bliss. For the damned it is torture. For the saved that light is the radiant light of glory. For the damned that same light is the excruciating torment of hell.

Allow me to put it another way which is more positive: God is constantly seeking to save that which is lost. He is doing everything he can to get people into heaven, and not allow anyone to go to hell. His love is relentless and in this life everyone will be given every opportunity to see and accept that love which is available in many different forms. They may even accept and affirm that love even if they think they are rejecting God because the God they are rejecting is a false understanding of God in the first place and therefore not God at all.

A person’s false understanding of God (received through bad teaching or bad example) may be so profound that they declare themselves an atheist. They think they are rejecting God when all they are rejecting is the James Joyce god. They may live a life of justice and peace and mercy. They may pursue in their life all that they know of truth, beauty and goodness. They may sacrifice all that they have for the poor and seek to love with all their heart all the truth, beauty and goodness they understand.

That person, when they see Jesus Christ will affirm him as all the truth, beauty and goodness they have always loved, and they will continue to reject the false god they thought was God and that will be a good thing. They too, then will be saved, and they will be saved through the love of Jesus Christ and the grace that he and his blessed Mother granted to them–even if they thought they were rejecting Christ and his love.

This is the God I worship and this is the judgement to which I look forward–a judgement at which everyone will be surprised– the good unbelievers who thought they rejected God but only ever rejected a false god, and likewise the bad believer who thought he believed and followed God, but only believed in the little false god of his own devising, and in fact, rejected the true God of total love, forgiveness and mercy.

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  • http://Themanwhowouldbeknight.blogspot.com Ryan Kraeger

    Amen, Padre!

  • bitznbitez

    Its like a playground. There is happiness, play, and fun, until a bully shows up and starts smacking kids. The teacher, who loves all the kids, must stop this, first by talking to the bully and then by forcibly removing them from the playground. This is done not to punish the bully but of love for the other kids who desire and deserve happiness. The bully can come back to the playground if he will let the teacher train him, teach him how to be good. But if the bully refuses to be helped he can never return to the playground. The place where all the bullies go is, by nature, a bad place, because the bullies are there.

    We don’t confine a man to a jail cell, a metal cage, to be mean to him. We do it out of love for the rest of society, desiring to make it a safe and happy place.

    Heaven is like that. Nothing bad can be allowed to enter, out of love for all who are there. That which is bad can be let in if it allows itself to be purged of evil. But if it refuses, out of love for all the rest, it cannot be let in. The place where all the evil beings go is a bad place, a hell.

  • Ron

    Well said Father. C.S. Lewis said, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”

  • Paul Rodden

    Calvin and Jansen did soooooooo much damage :(

  • Michael

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
    ― attributed to Marcus Aurelius

    My contention is that a God who punishes forever in hell a person who dies in mortal sin (grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate intent) is evil. Have them cease to exist, return them to same state that they were before they were born but don’t seek to torture them forever. In what moral calculus is that ever warranted. Could any of you, if you had the power, ever torture someone,no matter what he or she did? Would you respect a person who did that? Would you seek to emulate them? Would you promote them as a role model? I hope not.

    And why do our religions (Christian and Muslim) teach the concept of hell for those that stray from the true course? Because it keeps their followers observant, or at least it has until modern secular ethics has made this teaching abhorrent.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I have explained a Christian view of hell which is not about “God torturing people forever” but you resort to your ill formed preconceptions. I can only conclude that you do not wish to entertain the idea of another kind of God or another kind of hell. The one you have devised is easier to reject so I guess you will keep to it.

  • Michael

    As religious posts go this one was very good. If this is an indication of your homilies on Sunday, you will keep your parishioners’ attention. I say that in all seriousness. That’s a well thought out post.

    A couple of clarifications

    “The person who truly hates God wouldn’t be happy in heaven.” Very few atheists I know or have read hate God (even allowing for the obvious fact that they don’t accept God’s existence) . The late Christopher Hitchens, a proclaimed “anti-theist” is perhaps the person who best fits that bill. Most are indifferent to God and religion but are perfectly content to let other people practice their religion as long as they don’t try to impose it on society as a whole or hurt children with their beliefs. You may say that I hate God. No I don’t. It’s just that for ethical reasons I would refuse to accept any God that countenances eternal punishment for sentient beings.

    “If you reject the evidence of God’s love which is all around you, you will not experience the love of God.” Francis Collins ,current head of NIH and one of the small minority of top scientists who profess belief in God , found God in a frozen waterfall. While I have great respect for Dr. Collins and his work on the human genome and leading NIH, it should not be surprising if non believers find his story somewhat sparse on evidence for God. Richard Dawkins stated “God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science. ” But the lack of evidence, the multitude of incompatible religions/denominations with widely varying understandings of God (by definition most of them false) and the lack of any consensus by religions/denominations on any modern specific moral issue leads one with a moment reflection to realize that this is the exact same world that would occur with no God but with peoples desperate to believe in one.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Dawkins’ main problem is that he expects proof for God’s existence to be given to satisfy “the exacting standards of science.” This is what theists find so laughable and frustrating. The narrow minded ignorance combined with arrogance is breathtaking.

    God and the whole spiritual phenomenon of religion is so much more vast and ambiguous and mysterious than science. The whole question is ridiculous. It’s like saying, “If there really is such a thing as beauty why can’t we take it’s temperature?” or “If there really was such a thing as existence why can’t we count it?”

  • Michael

    I don’t think I said “God torturing people forever” and if I did I truly meant God allowing such to happen.

    Whether you say we exclude ourselves or as the Catholic catechism says “Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!” I understand that Catholics now teach that hell is not a physical place and that Milton and other artists’ description of the the Inferno while useful for the Church in the past is not currently popular (although it was in my youth and I attended many preached retreats where priests tried to scare the hell out of us).

    But whatever version of hell you wish to propose I reject all that allow eternal suffering, whether internally or externally imposed.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I ask you to re-consider the idea of torment. I am suggesting that this torment is the logical and just consequence of choosing to reject what is beautiful, true and good. Should someone do this the only thing they would have is all that is ugly, false and evil. This would end up being a torment to them.

    I also ask you to re-consider the idea of what is eternal. Eternity is not endless time, it is to exist outside of time in a present moment that contains all time and all moments. If one assumes that the soul is eternal, or continues to exist out of time, and because it is created in God’s image, cannot simply cease to exist, then one will exist in that “eternal moment” in some sort of spiritual state.

    Of course, I accept that one may reject the idea of the eternal soul. If that is the basic assumption, then any question of heaven or hell is merely academic.

    I’m sure you would agree with me that simply believing a premise (or not believing it) does not necessarily make that premise true one way or the other. Therefore, to believe in the eternal soul, heaven and hell is an act of faith. Not believing in the eternal soul, heaven and hell is also an act of faith of sorts–albeit a negative one.

  • Paul Rodden

    If God sends people to Hell, or has made a place for the ‘bad people’ when they die, is a very different question from whether he exists or not. We cannot link our musings to metaphysics so crudely (see Newman on Real and Notional Assent). If we do, we’re like the little girl who stands in the park, puts her hands over her eyes, and thinks daddy can’t see her, if he does exist.

    If there’s a supernatural life, God exists, and he’s likely to sent you to hell for not believing in him, or for breaching some moral code, I’m betting you’d do whatever he said. It’s bit like the old joke about where a 500lb gorilla can sit in a room. If he exists, and you don’t do what he says, your belief about the matter is irrelevant.
    In this scenario you’d feel under duress, like you would if a person, right here and how, put a gun to your head and told you to traffic drugs for them, they’d shoot you, but also knowing there’s no way to escape from them. It’s also at that point that Free Will is experienced in its fulness.

    Now, if God doesn’t exist, there’s really no issue, because you can do what you like, and the only punishment is likely to come from your fellow man, some can be nice, but others, very fickle, vengeful, and sadistic, and generally nasty and unfair, making laws for their own ends if they have enough power, etc.
    Just think of the Roman Games around at the time of Marcus Aurelius and the gods they believed in – just larger-that-life versions of themselves. You can see where Fueurbach, Freud, et al. got the idea that ‘God’ is a projection… You rely on good guys getting to the top (‘Corruptio Optimi Pessima’, as the Romans would have said).

    …but it’s not the Christian God. If the Catholic Church taught what your putting into it’s mouth I, for one, would leave tomorrow because I’d have been duped that he was a loving, merciful, and just God, when he was, contrary to it’s constant teaching of 2 millennia, a monster. In fact, a reason to be Catholic and not Protestant is that we teach One Thing.

    You can disagree, but that would be like our 10 year-old son who’s taking us literally at the moment by doing something that we haven’t been specific about, yet he still knows it’s wrong, even though his particular case wasn’t included in the rule. He has the capacity to fill the gaps lke u cn whn u rd ths. Dissenters in the Church behave like my 10 year-old. They know the score, they just don’t like any restrictions on their pleasures and desires, so they play dumb.

    You can’t have justice or ‘fairness’ and no Hell, they are incompatible, just as they require restrictions on freedom, just like I can’t X and not-X at the same time, however much I desire them simultaneously, like Balaam’s Ass.

    In essence, it’s not about ‘the type of God’ which is credible or not – “If he’s like A, I’ll believe in him, but if he’s like B, I won’t”. It’s simply about whether he exists or not.

    If he exists, whatever he says requires assent, like ‘DO NOT TOUCH 50,000 VOLTS’, ‘fornication is bad for you’, or ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’.
    If he doesn’t exist, welcome to the French Revolution, Nazism, Communism, China, North Korea, all rolled into one. That’s hell, isn’t it? And if there’s no afterlife, no possibility of heaven, why not commit suicide, as Sartre and his pals suggested? Hell really would be other people.

  • Paul Rodden

    …and what was the first item on the next blog I visited after posting this? A piece posted today by James Schall SJ, “The Goodness and Humanity of God”:

    Some call that synchronicity :)

  • michael

    A world with a God is very much different from a world without a God. Dawkins may demand proof to the “exacting standards of science” but most atheists would just like a hint of evidence. That’s often how science works. There is a hint of an anomaly in the accepted theory and scientists dive in to find out if there’s something there (in science the greatest rewards are given to those who overthrow the existing framework.) But no examination has ever found any evidence for a God or Gods. Studies on prayer have shown it to be just as efficacious as doing nothing, miracles have been shown to have natural causes, and science is continuously removing the areas where previous God was invoked. Is it narrow minded ignorance to ask for evidence before assenting to assertions. If our politicians say raising taxes will make things better, or cutting taxes will make things better, don’t we demand evidence to see which is correct. If scientists say increasing levels of CO2 will cause climate change, we ask to see the data. If a sign on a fence says wet paint we touch it to confirm it (at least I do and it annoys my wife when I do it). Why should all the various religions be different?

    I agree that just because a question can be posed, doesn’t mean it has an answer or is a sensible question. Outside of poetry what is the temperature of love has no meaning. Perhaps that is why in an interview a few years ago the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury when ask to explain God, the best he could come up with is God is poetry. From your bio perhaps invoking him might not be the best example but religion needs to move beyond the mysterious and ambiguous and inscrutable.

  • michael

    “Not believing in the eternal soul, heaven and hell is also an act of faith of sorts–albeit a negative one.” If it is an act of faith then one could argue we all have faith in astrology – albeit a negative one.

    If we are created in God’s image then why the primacy of faith. Does God have faith? No, God knows all. No faith required. If we are created in the image of God then we, like God, can’t cease to exist. But we came into existence at conception. Does that mean God had a beginning as well? If we are created in the image of God and God judges us on the evidence of our life and action, should we not demand evidence of God’s love and existence? Saying we are created in the image of God allows all sort of possible interpretations. Why not say reason and evidence is how we are in God’s image?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Faith is reasonable because there is plenty of evidence.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    When religious people offer evidence for the existence of God atheists reject it. The evidence is never enough or never of the right kind. Stop for a moment and consider the foolishness of your request. If religious people offer evidence for the existence of God from the world of nature–its grandeur, its design, its intricate beauty etc etc. The atheist says, “Nah, that’s just nature. You’re reading into it.” If the theist then offers a miracle as evidence the atheist says, “Nah, there’s no such thing as miracles–just stuff we can’t yet explain.” This is why theist end up laughing and saying, “You atheists will never get the right answer because you’re not asking the right question. You’re like a color blind rationalist in an art gallery saying, “What’s all this art crap? All I see is a bunch of oily pigment smeared on a piece of cloth. Go on. Prove to me that there’s such a thing as art. Prove it. Where’s the evidence?”

  • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

    Fr. Longenecker,

    I’m curious what you think it means for a conscious being to exist in a timeless state. I for one have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I only understand consciousness in the context of time.

    The reason I ask is this: Until we can make sense of the notion of consciousness outside time, I don’t see how it makes sense to suggest that Hell exists outside time, or that a conscious being could be tormented outside time, etc.

  • lisag

    The Creator has all the answers. The created has all of the questions until he accepts with faith the will of the Creator. You can’t change the fact that you are created. You will not have peace until you realize you have no power to change the Truth of the relationship between the Creator and the created. You can reject the Creator, but remember that He is waiting for you to open your heart and submit all of yourself to His will. Free will is a great responsibility that has eternal consequences. The Creator wants us in heaven and he gives us time to work out our will on earth. How loving that is. To be allowed to come freely to live in splendor with the Lord.

  • michael

    Muslims say there is plenty of evidence of evidence for the Muslim God, Mormons for the Mormon God, Christian Scientists for the Christian Science notion of God. They have radically different concepts of God than the Catholics do. But evidence is never offered save a vague look at the world around you.

    Thanks for the discussion. I hope my persistence in this line of discussion is not viewed as purely obstinate but a sincere reflection of my thoughts on the Christian notion of hell and judgement. Your view is much more tempered than the priests of my upbringing. I’m not sure how much it is in keeping with the current pope however who shows tendency to seek to revert to the older version of hell, complaining that hell has been downplayed post Vatican II.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    God is the essence of all Being. He does not exist as much as he is existence itself. I believe this is something on which all mono-theists would agree.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I understand eternity to be a single timeless moment in which consciousness is full and complete.

  • michael

    I’ve never seen any evidence offered save subjective internal, a feeling of peace with the world, with creation, a oneness with God. I have friends who are Mormons, Christian Scientists and Muslims and they have all given me that same internal evidence. I assume you would as well as I was taught to seek when I was a Catholic.

    Is there any evidence you can proffer beyond that?

    Richard Feynman expressed it best with how a scientist can appreciate art.

    “I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I am not speaking of subjective feelings as evidence. If I were to compose a philosophical argument based on the evidence of the created order then the atheist will say, “Neh, those are just philosophical word games, and the ‘evidence’ of the natural order–it’s just the natural order. You’re seeing a designer and a first cause where there isn’t one.” If then, I resort to a supernatural form of evidence–let’s say the miracle of the sun at Fatima, an incorrupt body, stigmata or the bi-location or levitation of a saint–all things which are well documented by witnesses, the atheist will simply say, “Miracles! You’re not going to try that one on are you? Miracles??? We know there’s no such thing as miracles. They’re just natural things for which we do not yet have the explanation.”

    This is why I refuse to offer “evidence” to atheists, because I have yet to find any atheist who takes the evidence we offer seriously. Now, I don’t blame them for this. I don’t think most of them have the intellectual tools to deal with the evidence we present. I’m not saying they’re stupid (although some seem to be) but I am saying that for whatever reasons they do not have the intellectual paradigms in place to enable them to see what we present as evidence for the existence of God.

  • michael

    I k ow all the standard philosophical proofs of God’s existence. Of them the only one that begins to work is the argument from design and was certainly the reason why so many American founding fathers were Deists rather than atheists or agnostics. The theory of evolution and modern cosmology have greatly reduced the power of that argument but I will admit as you study more and more in science the awe of this universe does give one pause. It was the argument used in the Dover case on evolution in the school room but each biological example offered up as requiring design was refuted by science explaining how a particular biological system could have evolved. There may be a example that science cannot explain or gives evidence of design but it hasn’t been found yet.

    Scientists look at miracles critically because that’s what they were taught to do. Scientists should not say there is no such thing as miracles, only that there is no evidence that they occur. James Randi, in a slightly different vein, has offered his million dollar challenge, for anyone that can prove than any supernatural phenomena occurs. There have been many triers but none has one the prize. The Templeton foundation recently spent several million dollars studying the effacacy of prayer and came out with a negative result. Scientists conducted double blind carbon dating on the shroud of Turin and came up with the date that corresponds when it first appeared in the historical record and some Sidonologists have refused to accept it.

    Scientists and atheists have the “intelectual tools” to evaluate evidence, and they have the objective capacity to do it as well. Because scientists know that should they discover evidence for any supernatural phenomena, they would be meeting with the King of Sweden next year.

  • IB Bill

    It’s not so simple. Theist, Catholic or atheist, we don’t know who we are; we don’t know what we’re doing here; we have no idea where we are going; we don’t even really know where “here” is. We have supposedly “natural” explanations for things … except they don’t explain themselves.

    With this life unexplained, how can we say, “Oh yes this one is perfectly ordinary and obvious, but the next one, that’s pie in the sky?”

    I’m not articulating this well. it was done better in the end of the Book of Jonah.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    refer to my previous comment. We offer evidence from the physical world and it is not enough or not the right kind of evidence. We offer supernatural evidence instead and it is dismissed or explained away. Therefore the atheist is right: there is no evidence. That’s because he had already decided that there was no God. Therefore it follows that there cannot be evidence for God.

    It’s like those psychological test pictures: both people look at the same picture. One sees a young woman in a hat. The other sees an old crone.

    Allow me to ask one question which I constantly ask those who demand evidence. I expect you will not answer this question clearly and simply. The question is simply this: What sort of evidence do you require?

  • Glenn Juday

    A thought regarding the state of beings occupying Hell:

    Perhaps the most difficult challenge for someone of the rationalist/naturalist flavor of atheism in dealing with the concept of souls caught up in the eternity (or “a single timeless moment in which consciousness is full and complete”) of Hell, is to set aside the notion of time. It is supremely difficult for us to do because we are creatures caught up in time. For an Earthly human soul, life just confronts us with one damned thing after another (a perspective often offered as the basis for atheism). For Catholic believers it is still supremely difficult for us to set aside the notion of time, but with impeccable logic we have a Supreme Being to help us – both as a conceptual aide and a very real presence.

    The key consequence of this inability (or unwillingness) to deal with Eternity and our eternal destiny, is the presumption that we will always be able to change. Literally, when an atheist is on a quest for knowledge of any kind or examines a question, such as conducting a dialog with a Catholic, he or she is putting into real lived experience the faith that at least the intellect may change – become enlightened by the encounter with new knowledge. The problem is death. The Catholic believer knows that when we pass from Earthly existence through death into eternal life, we will loose the fundamental capacity to change. If our final state of Earthly life constituted fundamental hostility to God and the things of God, then that is how we would remain, by our own eternally fixed choice. If our final state included a mixture of disordered self love and not fully culpable ignorance about God and moral life, we will face the purgation of these unworthy traits and take up our existence in a self-diminished state of eternal unity, bliss, and harmony of mind and will with God.

    Because time, and the relentless, remorseless passage of time, is such a fundamental part of our Earthly existence, we humans have a strong tendency to presume that we can always change later. A number of atheists that I have come to know well seem to actually presume that if they had gotten this God issue all wrong all through their lives, in the end – their end – they probably would be able to straighten it all out with Him. After all God is love, right?

    To believe this arrangement is to argue against the very concept of punishment, which a number of highly placed individuals in the Church seem to have done over the past few decades, or in secular terms to dismiss the concept of consequences. But some consequences are inescapable, no matter how tiresome the cliché used to point out the fact. Discounting this fact is a strange and characteristically late 20th/early 21st century perspective on life and existence. No doubt this strange aberration in human consciousness has been fostered by the universal lived experience of gradual improvement in the material circumstances of life, such as medicine, communication, access to knowledge, improved diets, bothersome but receding daily experience of violence.

    But in the end, our lives become a finished product, insofar as our own wills are concerned. That state of our souls is the lens through which we will experience eternity. At one level, that’s not a hard concept to grasp, because it has so many secular echos, such as the historical reality of a person’s legacy. Well, a person whose final and settled mind and will is mocking, disputatious, vulgar, blasphemous, selfish, stubborn, etc. will have to face the summit of all Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Justice itself. Rationally now, how do you think such an encounter logically must come out? OK then, all you have to realize that neither party is capable of change – God because He cannot be less than perfection itself by His nature, and the unrepentant soul because he had every chance to change and is now in a state of existence in which he no longer wishes to.

  • Sean

    I don’t mean to highjack this thread, but I felt compelled to offer my two cents.

    Father – You keep mentioning that theists regularly offer evidence from both the physical world and from the supernatural world which are dismissed by atheists. I would argue that you do it all the time as well. There are many, many similar arguments made (with similar appeals to physical and supernatural evidence) for the existence of many widely accepted gods. The Muslim god, the Hebrew god, and perhaps some versions of the Christian god (Mormons and Scientologists maybe) offer tremendous amounts of evidence. Where we agree is that their evidence is simply bad evidence. It cannot be replicated. When questioned rigorously, it does not hold up. Still, many believers offer this “evidence” and many other faithful followers of the various doctrines hold it up as sufficient while no one who analyzes it rationally will accept it.

    While you have actually offered no evidence here, I would venture a guess that if you did it would be similar to the evidence you would easily dismiss if it did not coincide with your particular religious worldview.

    Evidence that would convince me? There is literally an infinite amount. Here’s one example. I have typed a 50 digit number in a spreadsheet and saved it in my hard drive. If you, or anyone else, can supply me with that number without hacking into my computer then I will believe in the power of god. I will even give you 5 tries.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your comment, and thank you for giving an example of the sort of evidence you require. What you want is a miracle on demand. Now we are getting somewhere, for the sort of evidence you demand indicates the sort of God you disbelieve in–and therefore the sort of God you assume we believe in.

    This “God” is “a big extraterrestrial who does magic tricks.” If you do not believe in this God then I commend you, for we agree. That’s not what I mean by God either. You’ll understand then, when I say that you have got the wrong answer because you have asked the wrong question.

    Asking for this kind of evidence for the existence of God and then saying “Aha! You see there is no God!!” is like a person being told that a car burns liquid fuel that is pumped into the tank through a hose. Let’s say a “car doubter” person disbelieves that such a marvelous thing could be true, so to test it he gets a water hose and fills the car’s tank. He then presents his findings to the car believers and says, “Aha! you silly car believer people! It’s obviously true that cars do not burn liquid fuel and move forward. That thing you call a car is nothing but a pile of metal!”

    You’ll understand if the car believer just shakes his head and gets in another car and drives away.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    To your other point about types of evidence in relation to other religions. This is a good question, but you have concluded wrongly about how I treat this evidence. First, there are two types of evidence from various religions. The first is evidence for the existence of God. If other religions also offer evidence or reasons for belief in God we Catholics would agree with them. We are happy to affirm truth wherever it presents itself.

    The second type of evidence is for a particular religion. We are happy to consider all these forms of evidence, and would subject them to the same tests we apply to such evidence in our own religion. Let us consider the recent miraculous evidence of statues of the Hindu god Ganesh “drinking” milk. We would subject such ‘evidence’ to the same tests we expect of a Catholic claiming that a statue of Mary was weeping blood. We first look for every natural explanation–both physical and psychological. If there is no natural explanation we usually suspend judgement and say that it is inexplicable. We may then, after time, say that a supernatural explanation is the only explanation we have presently. We admit that supernatural occurrences take place in other religions.

    That is why we do not insist that supernatural occurrences are proofs of religious claims. Together with reasoning, theology, philosophy, revelation through the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the church we say that the supernatural events may support belief or illustrate belief, but we do not claim that they prove that our religion is true.

  • Sean

    Father – I didn’t say that I thought you believed in a god that does “magic tricks.” However, if you believe what the Catholic church teaches then you believe in a god that does intervene in the physical world at least sometimes. In fact, the god of the Christian bible intervened directly in the physical world quite regularly up until about 2,000 years ago. Now, it is only occasionally. I simply gave one example of evidence that would support a god who exists in a supernatural setting but sometimes intervenes to alter regular functioning of the physical universe (such as inspiring authors to write books about him, fathering children without intercourse, or changing the chemical structure of water into wine simply by praying). If you want to call the example I gave a “magic trick” that is your prerogative.

    You say that the advice you provide is always dismissed by atheists and ask me what advice would convince me. Then you tell me I’m asking for the wrong kind of evidence. It seems that we will not be having a meeting of the minds, which is not a tragedy.

    To paraphrase Sam Harris, “If someone doesn’t value logic, what kind of logical argument can one provide to convince him that he should.”

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Magic Tricks are different from miracles, but I’ll let you study up on that if you’re interested.

  • http://garden-of-ominous-delight.blogspot.com/ Hieronymus Monk

    “Do not suppose that because I have spoken of darkness and of a cloud I have in mind the clouds you see in an overcast sky or the darkness of your house when your candle fails…. When I speak of darkness, I mean the absence of knowledge. If you are unable to understand something or if you have forgotten it, are you not in the dark as regards this thing? You cannot see it with your mind’s eye. Well, in the same way, I have not said “cloud,” but cloud of unknowing. For it is a darkness of unknowing that lies between you and your God. ” Unknow (from, The Cloud of Unkowing)