Scales: Cosmos, Knowledge & Faith

The Scale of the Universe: You are not at the center of it and nor am I.

The Scale of Knowledge: Too often we do not know what we do not know.

“. . .the elites have gotten to a point where they don’t even know what they don’t know. Reminds me of the pair of Purdue art professors writing an exhibition catalog who were appallingly ignorant of Biblical subjects–even when the picture had a caption! I had to explain to them who Lot & Co. were and why they were leaving Sodom.”

Several years ago I took some philosophy courses at the University of Oregon. One of the teaching assistants, who was close to earning his doctorate in philosophy (his thesis was on some aspect of Nietzsche’s thought), was a professed atheist, but not of the “new atheist” variety. We went out for coffee a couple of times and he lamented, to my surprise, that he had not (in his words) “been given the gift of faith.” He then said, “I sometimes wish I could have lived in the medieval era, because even though life was hard, people knew their place in the cosmos.”

The Scale of Faith: “Right worship gathers the world.”

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mary

    But I am the center of the universe! I just pretend I’m not because it simplifies the math so much.

  • Julie

    What a blessing to the Church Father Barron is!!!! May God richly bless him and his genius for evangelizing!

  • Stephen J.

    What interests me about that note that “we’re not at the centre of the universe”….

    If you look at where the human figure is on that scale bar, from smallest to largest, we *are* eerily close to the exact halfway point.

    Reminds me of Dinesh D’Souza’s answer to the complaint, “If Christ was sent to redeem humanity, why was he sent so late in our history?” — i.e., Homo sapiens has been around for 30,000-100,000 years and only the last two thousand years’ worth were “worth” saving?

    D’Souza pointed out that in terms of *numbers*, 98% of all humans who have ever lived have been born after 1 AD.

    It’s irrelevant cleverness on one level, of course — I believe the theology is that the Redemption works both backwards and forwards in time — but it’s a keen reminder that the most obvious perspective is not always the most applicable or relevant.

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    Right on, Fr. Barron! With apologies to the efforts of the good people working in formation at our parish, I’ve always despised the religious education materials. The books are too abstract for the young kids and not rigorous enough for the older kids. It reminds me of my own formation (or lack thereof), which consisted mainly of “Jesus is love.” Well – great! But what does the Church teach about a thousand other subjects? Twelve years of “Jesus is love” is no way to explore the intellectual richness of the faith. I’d actually save “Jesus is love” for the final exam. After you’ve studied some of the other stuff, “Jesus is love” actually means something.

  • Bill

    It would be interesting to find that University of Oregon teaching assistant and see if he is still an atheist.

  • RB

    “I had to explain to them who Lot & Co. were and why they were leaving Sodom.”

    I had a small scale reproduction of Michelangelo’s Moses which I took in to sell to a store. The (youngish, college-age ) clerks didn’t know who he was. “Zeus?” (He’s holding the tablets, for heaven’s sake!)

    Finally I said, “Charleton Heston”. They laughed–but still didn’t get it! When I told them “Moses”, they had to look it up in a catalog to make sure. (So much for modern education…)

  • Last Sphere

    Read anything and everything by G.K.Chesterton!

  • Hantchu

    He’s very good. One could profitably draw a lot of comparative theology from this 5 minutes of his sermon.

    Peripheral point–Father Barron quotes a Catholic source likening Noah’s ark to the vision of Isaiah, in which the lion lies down with the lamb and all creatures exist in harmony. There’s an outside source in Jewish tradtion that after the ark, Noah walked with a limp. Evidently an irate lion clawed him for bringing dinner late.

    Do the right thing, but don’t necessarily expect gratitude for it in this world.

    You should hear Camille Paglia’s (really!) lecture on the significance of religion on the Great Ideas lecture series. To lose the richness of the traditonal canon is to lose part of the ability to think in depth.

  • Mit

    In regards to your comments on artistic ignorance, I had a similar experience a couple of years ago on a trip to Madrid. The Prado is one of the great museums of the world- but our tour guide, a museum employee, was woefully ignorant on the subjects of the paintings. She knew the form of the art and could make comments on style, use of light, brushstrokes etc., but not “the who or what” of the painting. I particularly remember her ignorance of a painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria and, if I remember it correctly, Reuben’s painting of St. Augustine on the beach with the young boy who taught him the famous lesson on the Trinity. I don’t think I know much, but I ended up making so many clarifying remarks to her descriptions at the request of others on the tour she finally had to admit she wasn’t religious and didn’t know much about what the paintings were about. It is just an odd situation when you bump into it…it appears to be an almost enforced ignorance.

  • dry valleys

    I confront this professor that your correspondent spoke to :)

    “I sometimes wish I could have lived in the medieval era, because even though life was hard, people knew their place in the cosmos.”

    That strikes me as a rather undignified attitude. I am an atheist, & if I thought religion was so good I would join a religion. I don’t know whether I am one of those evil NU ATHEISTS but maybe I am, as I regard it as basically insulting for me to be in favour of something I don’t believe in.

    Is it just me, or is the idea of the “noble lie” a giant slap in the face? By being an atheist in the first place, this professor is essentially stating that he does not consider any of the theological claims to be true, so why go along with them?

    I always think about Bradlaugh, the 19th century heathen politician. He was vilified for not being a Christian but he enjoyed the support of Gladstone (a more genuinely devout man than many of those who used religion to advance their political designs against him) because he was honest.

    Those who lament the Reformation & Enlightenment are, daily, enjoying the benefits these movements brought to humanity. I do not actually think people were happier or better off in the old days (apart from a handful of militant greens, not many people would think that), & as for this “yes, but faith is good for society”, firstly I’d still baulk about being in favour of grown men & women believing things I don’t believe in, secondly there is some doubt as to whether that’s true in the first place.

    [I dunno, DV. I have a friend who once listened to my husband and me talk about something we were doing in the church and he chimed in, "I wish I had that..." he was attracted to what he saw of our life of faith, but he was disinterested in making the changes in his life that he knew embracing faith would require, so he chose atheism, rather than asking for or seeking out faith. I don't see the "noble lie" because I've had such a similar experience in my own life. -admin]

  • saveliberty

    I agree with Elizabeth’s response to dry valleys.

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried
    and found wanting.It has been found difficult
    and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

    Mary Eberhardt took this point another way in the Loser Letters. She argued against the view that God is a human invention. She asked if God were only a figment of human imagination, why in the world do humans come up with standards that are so difficult to live by?

    Thank you for the video! We loved it.

  • tim maguire

    If the universe is infinite, than every point within it is the center. So you are the center of the universe. But so am I.

    I find this conclusion more pleasing–not that no one is, but that everyone is.


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