Chatting with a Catholic Deacon tonight… what should I ask?

The deacon at the local parish has been kind enough to set aside some time to chat with me tonight.  I’m not having a debate, but a conversation.  I’ve been reading plenty of apologetics and having debates of my own, but I was planning to have this be a less academic-themed discussion.

The main question I’d like to discuss is what sustains him in his faith.  I’m curious as to whether it’s mostly the kind of academic/philosophical ideas that I’ve been discussing here or the more experiential things that Justin Martyr supports.  I’d also be curious to hear his thoughts on what prompts conversion or ought to prompt conversion.

Anything people think I ought to ask in particular?

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377685250633624137 Tristyn Bloom

    Ask him how anyone brought up without religion, even if they find grace in their lives, can be fit to judge among churches and pick which one is true/correct/as close as we're gonna get/something.(It is a trick question because I am fairly sure there isn't an answer, but I haven't spent the past two years thinking about it or anything…)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Off topic: but I just wanted to say "Pleasure to meet you" and "I responded to your note on my blog this morning".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    I would ask him for examples of how his faith enlightens and explains things he sees in everyday life. E.g., how it helps him to relate to other people, understand the world, understand himself and his own motivations, etc. Don't expect him to be up on the latest apologetic / intellectual arguments.

  • http://mbsquared.wordpress.com Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith

    Here is a few suggestions:What is your image of God? Has i changed over the years? What has challenged and/or inspired your image of God?Why follow Jesus?What is the Church?Baptism/Confirmation: What are you savd from? What are you saved for?Eucharist-What do we celebrate here?Sin and forgiveness, what are the church's teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation?Suffering, Illness, Death and Resurrection?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    I'd be very interested to hear his take on the intellectual/experiential aspects of "belief" as well.- can anyone believe purely based on an intellectual grasp of pertinent apologetics?- what is someone to do who has so many areas where they doubt there can be a plausible explanation/defense of faith that they literally don't think they even could believe?- can one "choose" belief?- would the deacon, as a representative of the Church, support someone who when presented with apologetics which he/she found unsatisfying, chose to go the route of atheism/agnosticism?— in other words, someone is left with 1) doubt of the existence of god or 2) trying to believe an answer they find unconvincing or based only on hypothetical possibilities… can they be said to have chosen a rationally tenable path should they find 1) more satisfying or will the Church always see such individuals as "hating god", "hard of heart", "rejecting or ignorant of the movement of the HS", etc.I am very curious about the last. I have yet to hear a believer really acknowledge that it's at least a defensible position to disbelieve. Everyone seems to think that if you don't believe you are guilty of malicious rejection or not seeing the evidence which is supposedly there and extremely convincing to everyone else…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Hendy:Some brief replies to your good questions.1. I doubt it. We are human being, not calculators. Belief involves the whole person. It's one of the reasons Christians believe God became man, because he address the whole person, not merely the disembodied intellect.2. Start somewhere.3. Yes. But it's a particular kind of choosing. Not shutting your eyes and willing to yourself to believe what your intellect knows to be self-contradictory nonsense (that's insane). But choosing to believe the possibility that the God who transcends (not contradicts) reason has spoken in Christ Jesus. It is, at the very least, worth checking out the possibility.4. Depends on what you mean by "support". If you walk out of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) nobody's gonna stop you. And if you ask for prayers as you go, you can bet you'll have them. Catholics are generally crappy at evangelism and all that. But the upside is, there's no high pressure salesman either. Coupled with that is a very high reluctance to make specific judgement about specific people. Especially specific people we don't know all that well. People enter and leave the Church for all sorts of reasons. One may as well try to pronounce on why each person is coming and going from Grand Central Station. It *could* be due to hardness of heart. Or it could be due to a phobia about the color of the carpets. Who knows? That's why we're told not to judge. Of course, if a person gives a "reason" for leaving that is not reasonable ("I just don't believe the Church's teaching about the Holy Spirit sleeping with Mary!") he will get a reasoned reply ("Uh. The Church doesn't teach that the Holy Spirit slept with Mary.") and he will have to deal with that reasoned argument. In terms of argument, the Church is an anvil that has worn out an awful lot of hammers. But if you are worried about getting condemning letters and phone calls, ain't gonna happen.Finally, as to your question about believers not acknowledging disbelief as defensible. I'm genuinely surprise and can only assume this is due to encountering Christians primarily on line, where things are weirdly distorted by stentorian rhetoric.Christians struggle with disbelief and doubt every day. Any Christian who tells you he never has doubts is a liar. It is, of course, the case that *some* atheism is due to the same sort of pig-headed fundamentalist unwillingness to think that one finds among, well, pig-headed Fundamentalists. And that is, in fact, a sin (pride). But atheism is rooted in lots of other things as well, many of them noble and admirable (though still, of course, mistaken if the Faith is, in fact, true). Gaudiem et Spes, the Church's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, has a very empathetic analysis of the sundry atheisms of modernity which show great respect for the frequently noble impulses that result in disbelief in God. Here are the salient paragraphs. I'd urge you to read the whole thing.Cont'd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    19. The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth. Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.20. Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.Cont'd.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man's hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.21. In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated(16) and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence.Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man's dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man's dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.Cont'd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life's major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church's teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly,(17) to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel(18) and who prove themselves a sign of unity.While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God's temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: "Thou hast made us for Thyself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."(19)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    I'd be interested to hear how it went.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Hi Mark,- Are you the deacon? Just asking, as you responded in a length I would have expected were you the actual Deacon Leah was going to speak with!- Re. choosing. I don't comprehend much of a difference… choosing to believe vs. choosing to believe in the possibility sound very similar. "Man cannot worship… a probable god", right (Newman)? Anyway, how would you differentiate what you wrote from me suggesting that you can choose to believe that Mohammad was god's chosen prophet and provided the true revelation of himself in the Koran. Surely you would say it's possible for you to believe this, right? But if you imagine making that choice at this instant… what would it even mean? I would wager that for you to "choose to believe in the possibility" that Islam is the true revealed religion of Allah… would mean approximately nothing.- I don't expect phone calls. I meant more along the lines of what you quoted from GeS. I would say that the article is mostly written from a somewhat authority-based assertion point of view. In other words, it's all well and good for the believer to read that and form his/her view of atheism and decide that the remedy is to live out a life of Christ more fully… but no one has established on what grounds I should accept the overall premise of the whole quote: that god is man's creator and he has no completeness anywhere else.cont…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    …contWhat this will mainly come down to is that:1) My emotional component of belief is gone. I am fully open to considering that all of my previous experiences were not god, but in fact post-occurrence causal inferences based on what I already believed to be true.2) My intellectual objections have not been sufficiently answered in that the responses I have received essentially amount to possibilities with no supporting evidence. Let's just focus on one: the fall.Here are my questions:- what is the Church's best guess as to the time period in which the fall took place?— the "first man" (or woman) was of the species homo ________ (fill in the blank with one or more possible answers)- god implanted a soul in a man and/or woman such that there was no perceivable distinction genetically between the offspring and the parents but no one bore a share in god's divinity and the parents did not: true or false?- natural disasters, harms from animals, and things like flesh eating bacteria did not exist for the first man or he was somehow protected from these things: true or false?— if they did not exist, what geographical or archaeological evidence might support this, if any?— if they did exist, how might man have been sheltered?- whatever the first man was, can we be confident that he had sufficient reason to comprehend god's commands fully and thus be held responsible for a fully-informed decision about not doing X (X = figurative for eating of the tree of knowledge)?- where did the initial communication link we possessed (walking with god in the cool of the day) go as history progressed? For example, even though cast out, we still had 1:1 speaking sessions with Cain, the patriarchs, and prophets. We have no such thing today.- though we certainly did not have a "literal Adam", Paul references this profusely in his theology. Can one discredit Paul at all for believing in the literalness of a book we now know to be figurative (the Church has explicitly stated that one only need to believe that god was at the beginning of it all in some form, not in a literal Genesis creation account)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15949138478024405513 Michael

    Well, from my perspective the time together went well. It actually was one of the most delightful conversations I have had this summer and I feel honored that you asked. I hope we did not veer too off topic or get into things which were unhelpful. I find it humorous that in reading this blog I see that I know both 'Crowhill' from Laurel (I went to his apologetics talks back in early 2003 and St Mary's is my home parish) and have read Mark Shea's book on Scripture… Hopefully we can chat again before the summer is over! God Bless!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Hendy:I’m not the deacon. I just thought your questions were interesting.- Re. choosing. I don't comprehend much of a difference… choosing to believe vs. choosing to believe in the possibility sound very similar. "Man cannot worship… a probable god", right (Newman)? Yes. Man cannot worship a probable god in the sense that one cannot make a commitment to “love the guess your god with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” But the other end of the paradox (it’s pretty much always paradox in the Catholic world) is that God, while hard to satisfy, is easy to please. So when somebody comes to Jesus and says, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” Jesus says, “Good enough” and responds. He’s content with the widow’s mite and the mustard seed. But he means to make those grow too. We are *responsible*, even if we only have a widow’s mite. Hence, the guy with the one talent who *could* have invested it but instead hid it in the ground is judged, not for robbing the King of the measly talent (which he does not need) but for pissing away even the little bit he was responsible for. It may not be possible to do much more than choose to believe just a little bit. Well then, choose that much. God will supply what is lacking.Cont'd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Anyway, how would you differentiate what you wrote from me suggesting that you can choose to believe that Mohammad was god's chosen prophet and provided the true revelation of himself in the Koran.By looking at the merits of the evidence for Islam vs. the merits of the evidence for Christ. Both are historical claims. Christianity is not Mormonism. It is not a thing composed of warm feeling in the heart and burnings in the breast. One should not become a Christian because one has willed oneself to believe something irrational and contrary to reason. That’s mere self-delusion. Interrogate the Faith, not to prove it false (if it is, it will prove itself false by asking you to buy something that is contrary to reason), but to find out if it is true. Do the same with Islam. For what it’s worth, here’s my own take on the relationship between Islam and Catholic faith, based on Nostra Aetate (another document of Vatican II): Google Monotheism 101 and Monotheism 102. cont'd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    The basic approach the Church is free to take, with any religion, was outlined by C.S. Lewis some time ago. Namely, an atheist is bound by his own principles to declare that the overwhelming majority of the human race is absolutely and totally wrong about the thing that matters to them most. This is one of the reasons that atheists of the evangelical variety like Ditchkins tend to make such wooly mistakes as declaring, bumper sticker style, “Science works. Religion doesn’t.” The habit of rolling all religion together and tossing it in the waste basket is inveterate among the enthusiasts for Dawkins, Myers, et al. What they are commonly saying is, “All religions are the same, especially Christianity, which is worse.” It doesn’t make for sensible conversation. And so you get absurdities like Dawkins saying “I just disbelieve in one more god than Christians do.”A Christian is, in fact, free to suppose that even the oddest religion is partly right, and that there is a rather complex hierarchy of truth which can grant to other religious and philosophical traditions all sorts of real perceptions of truth (rather like the insightful Hindu tale of the blind men and the elephant). Christianity, for instance, made extensive use of Plato in trying to articulate the Faith to the Greco-Roman world, just as it honored the oracles of Judaism in making its appeal to Jews. You can see this happening already in the book of Acts. It also, of course, draws sharp distinctions between itself and other religious traditions. But the point is that the Church never has to pretend “We alone are solely right and everybody else is completely wrong.” Atheism paints itself into this corner with alarming frequency, which is why it tends to emit the constant rhetoric about how its adherents are, to used Sagan’s charming self-flattery, a “candle in the dark”. Only the One True Church of Rationalistic Science can save us all. Religion is completely worthless. Not all atheists are like this, of course. I’ve known some very pleasant and non-abrasive atheists and agnostics. But an awful lot of the “Brights” as they fatuously call themselves are far more persuaded of their intellectual superiority to the herd than they have any right to be. The irony of all this is that it works out to be a sort of weird imitation of the ugliest tendencies of the Abrahamic tradition to produce Pharisees and Inquisitors who declare “I thank you, O God, that I am not like other men.” One of the first impulses of Christ’s teaching is to remind his disciples, “You are a *lot* like other men.” And because Jesus is fully human, our faith has always insisted that it shares much in common with other religious traditions. So, in the case of Islam, the Church can and does affirm various commonalities. Atheism is forced to simply denounce Islam toute courte as it denounces all religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    The point of the passage from GeS is not to provide an apologetic for the existence of God. The Church basically says that this is knowable from natural reason. Vatican II is analyzing (obviously from a Catholic perspective and for the benefit of the faithful) why atheism is so trendy in the 20th century. It’s written, not to make converts, but to provide some intellectual grist for the Church in order to think through the problem of how to engage the various species of and rationales for atheism. You had stated “I have yet to hear a believer really acknowledge that it's at least a defensible position to disbelieve. Everyone seems to think that if you don't believe you are guilty of malicious rejection or not seeing the evidence which is supposedly there and extremely convincing to everyone else”. I was attempting to point out that, in the case of the Church, there are much more subtle and empathetic analyses of atheism than that.1) My emotional component of belief is gone. I am fully open to considering that all of my previous experiences were not god, but in fact post-occurrence causal inferences based on what I already believed to be true.Does it have to be either/or? In a sacramental universe, God comes to us through human things.- what is the Church's best guess as to the time period in which the fall took place?As far as I know, the Church attempts no answer to that question. It regard the fall as a fact of revelation, but is agnostic about when it happened and even about the specific historical circumstances. The catechism describes Genesis 3 as using “figurative language” to describe the event. In short, the Church believes that it happened, but has never gotten around to saying what the event would have looked like if you’d been there with a camera. That’s sensible, since the Fall is essentially an interior event.— the "first man" (or woman) was of the species homo ________ (fill in the blank with one or more possible answers)Hard to say. Presumably “sapiens” but then we have so little idea how that species relates to others like Neanderthal (who, by the way, buried his dead sometimes).- god implanted a soul in a man and/or woman such that there was no perceivable distinction genetically between the offspring and the parents but no one bore a share in god's divinity and the parents did not: true or false?I’m afraid I can’t decode your point here.- natural disasters, harms from animals, and things like flesh eating bacteria did not exist for the first man or he was somehow protected from these things: true or false?— if they did not exist, what geographical or archaeological evidence might support this, if any?— if they did exist, how might man have been sheltered?Are you asking me to speculate? Or are you wondering what other theologians have speculated? I think St. Thomas noodles this somewhere. There’s not a lot of dogmatic content to the faith on these points, as far as I know. But then I haven’t pondered it too much. A couple of Dominicans I talked with basically said that Thomas was of the view that the world was more or less like it is now, and that Adam’s divine protection largely consisted of unclouded common sense. “Don’t walk near that crumbly cliff. Don’t bug the lions.” But that’s fairly anecdotal and I wouldn’t put too much weight on it. The point of the story of the Fall is not to claim that lions didn’t eat meat before the fall, nor to insist that death and suffering in the animal and plant world never occurred till the Fall. It is solely focused on us and our relationship with God. Man was to be immune from death but he destroyed this. You may find that hard to believe, but I see no particular reason, granting the reality of the supernatural (which I do on other grounds) that it should not be so. All we know from history and the sciences is what did happen, not what would have happened.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    - whatever the first man was, can we be confident that he had sufficient reason to comprehend god's commands fully and thus be held responsible for a fully-informed decision about not doing X (X = figurative for eating of the tree of knowledge)?It would appear, from Genesis 3, that the answer is “Yes.”- where did the initial communication link we possessed (walking with god in the cool of the day) go as history progressed? For example, even though cast out, we still had 1:1 speaking sessions with Cain, the patriarchs, and prophets. We have no such thing today.I think you are reading the Bible in a fundamentalist way here. I also think you are generalizing your experience to the whole human race. Certainly, the world abounds with testimony of prayers answered and claims of communication with God. You can dismiss it all as rubbish a priori. But you can’t simultaneously claim that “We have no such thing today.” All you really mean is “I refuse to believe we have any such thing today.” And that is more or less the point of the Tradition: sin has damaged our communion with God, but has not completely destroyed it. We suffer from a darkened intellect, disordered appetites, and weakened will. We do not, says St. Paul, know how to pray. The claim of the Catholic faith is not “Every man a mystic in direct communication with the Divine Thunderbolt of Inspiration!” It is that “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4).In short, the normative way we encounter God is through the Tradition Jesus has handed down to his Church: the source and summit of that Tradition being Jesus himself, fully present in the Eucharist. Seemingly boring stuff like Mass, and doing your duty, and living out the commandments and the beatitudes, and loving your neighbor—not electric pizzazz miracles—are where it’s at. Now and then, God will do something out of the ordinary, like an apparition of Mary, or a miracle. He will (mostly) give “spiritual gifts” that appear mundane to the members of his body—administration, hospitality, exhortation. But now and then he will pour out on certain saints rather extraordinary and inexplicable gifts, as in the case of Padre Pio. The idea is precisely that each are chosen, but also that all are.- though we certainly did not have a "literal Adam", Paul references this profusely in his theology. Can one discredit Paul at all for believing in the literalness of a book we now know to be figurative (the Church has explicitly stated that one only need to believe that god was at the beginning of it all in some form, not in a literal Genesis creation account)?Paul is a Jew who thinks in terms of corporate personality. Somebody somewhere was the first man: ie. The first rational animal capable of relationship with God. There is no science—none—that can speak to that in the slightest, either to confirm or disprove it. When Paul is speaking of the sin of Adam, he has in mind the notion of this sort of corporate personality, just as when the prophets refer to “Israel” they shift back and forth from referring to the man Jacob to the nation that springs from him. Paul’s not attempting to write a natural history.PS. To keep things more brief, could we confine the discussion to one thing at a time?Also, what's your background? You sound like a former Evangelical, but it helps to know for sure because your doubts are conditioned by the sort of theological assumptions you are doubting, which may bear no relation at all to what the Church teaches.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09288513835630145996 GearHedEd

    Mark Shea said'"…atheism is rooted in lots of other things as well, many of them noble and admirable (though still, of course, mistaken if the Faith is, in fact, true)."Well, there's the rub. Huge caveat, that."…Gaudiem et Spes, the Church's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, has a very empathetic analysis of the sundry atheisms of modernity which show great respect for the frequently noble impulses that result in disbelief in God."That's all well and good, but I'm highly suspicious of the motives of the church to define "atheism". Especially after having read the paragraphs you quoted, all of which approach the question from a position of authority that takes the aforementioned caveat as absolute truth. This is an utterly biased view of atheism, that casts it as rebellion or denial of what atheists "know" but are too prideful to admit.The first paragraph under (19) says this explicitly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Hey Mark:I'll confine things to the fall, I suppose. I find your answer typical of most answers I receive. I don't mean for this to come off harsh and I think you answer honestly… but the answer essentially amounts to: "Nothing can confirm or deny this but we need to believe in it."Would you call this a caricature or accurate?My issue is were I not to suspect Christianity true and you to attempt to evangelize me, why should I suspect that something like the fall occurred?You stated that science will never confirm or disprove the fall, yet why would I suspect a strange aberration in our otherwise quite smooth progression of mammalian evolution and suppose that suddenly one man was rational and had intimate contact with god and a soul when his parents did not? I referenced this as it is in discord with the idea that man "erupted" from the earth as completely unique and different. This is emphatically not what we see with evolution. So, while you may accept the gradual physical and genetic changes, you still have to hold that the fall involved a son/daughter who was genetically indiscernible from his parents for all practical purposes, but was in direct communication with god, was protected from evils, and would not have died were he not to disobey.I hardly find avoiding natural evils with "common sense" satisfactory. People do that already and get tsunamied or hurricaned all the time.I hardly think Paul was referring to a figurative "rational man" and suspect very much that he believed in fundamental creationism. I could be wrong, though.Regarding miracles, surely you will admit that the Bible contains incredible accounts whereas today we have emotional experiences, the finding of lost items via St. Anthony prayers, and "healings" which are an answer to prayer in the form of skilled doctors who, as requested, did not screw up.- Why not lead some Africans through the parting of the ocean to safety from genocide?- Manna from heaven to feed the thousands who starve?- Healing of blindness? Healing of all blindness?- Conversion rates which deviate from typical documented statistics?I'm not impressed and think that the miracles today would not have been forecasted were individuals to believe literally in Jesus' words that his followers would do "greater deeds than these." Have you seen anyone do greater deeds than Jesus?P.S. Padre Pio was known to have requested carbolic acid for "sterilizing syringes" and did not have stigmata at the time of his death. I will gladly believe if the Church takes someone with stigmata and puts them in a carpeted room with no access to implements capable of being misused and documents their activity with video cameras for a period of a month and the stigmata remain.

  • Anonymous

    Hendy, I will chime in on the fall, as an atheist who has recently started returning to the church. St. Thomas defined a soul, I am paraphrasing from shaking memory here, as that which makes us in the image of god. Basically the thing, not a physical thing mind you, that GIVES you reason is your soul.Even with evolution you have to admit that at some point one of your descendants did NOT have the ability to reason.Therefore there is a line in the descendant tree in which a mother did not possess enough 'reason' to have the relationship with 'God' that you speak of, yet via genetic mutation its offspring did.As far as revelation goes I believe the only aspect of Genesis that MUST be literally true is that ALL mankind descends from 1 man, and 1 woman – due to original sin. (this at least according to the Catholic church). Whether this 'man' and 'woman' were Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, or any other ancestor is not largely relevant. What must be stated is that whatever species you choose to call it there is no extant descendant of it other than Humans (ie- if Bonobo Gorillas are our closest relative on the tree of life than this first man must have occurred after that split, but may have split again into multiple lines, modern man & Neanderthals for instance, however every branch other than us is now extinct).However I will point out that all of this is something of a tautology. We know now from scientific discovery only one way in which to 'make' people. That is, evolution via natural selection. Why would you use a scientific fact as a basis for judging God? It seems you are presupposing that evolution, a known scientific certainty, isn't acceptable as a method by which God made man. – On a side note this can easily handle that various astrological arguments commonly made about god (why would God make such a vast universe just for us? – Precisely because THIS universe, on THIS planet is how you make THESE people! or at least the only way WE can claim to know how to make US)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    Re: "the fall," I would ask you to consider, …+ what is it trying to explain? – what are some alternative explanations? + what does it require you to assume? – what do the alternatives require you to assume?When you go through that sort of analysis, the fall comes out looking fairly silly. There's nothing about human moral behavior that's all that terribly difficult to explain by reference to animal behavior. But "the fall" requires you to believe several things for which we have no real evidence (outside the Bible), e.g., that humans were at one time in some original state of moral innocence, that they sinned, that this brought about some divine recompense, that this changed the human moral condition, and that this condition was passed down to all subsequent humans. Why would you fall for that?

  • Anonymous

    Crowhill, so you deny that Humans have an ability to discern a morality in their actions that animals don't? Isn't the fundamental issue with human existence, regardless of your religious views, exactly that? If we were all comfortable explaining human failings with animal behaviors and the pseudoscience that is 'evolutionary psychology' why would anyone feel they needed religion or philosophy? not why would you or I, but anyone, clearly there are differing views on this.The simple fact is a lion does not, or at least has never shown to anyone the ability to, sympathize with its prey, yet a human is completely capable of empathy for the cow as it eats a steak. That empathy runs the gamut from veganism to a carefree passing thought in different people, but you CANNOT deny that mankind is capable of reasoning his actions in a way that the VAST majority of the animal kingdom does not. You can accept that and just wave it away as a by product of evolution, but you can't deny the existential issue that is fundamental to the human experience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    Anonymous — I'm saying that human morality may be different from animal morality by degree and not by kind. There are animals that feel sympathy and a sense of fair play and all sorts of other weird things. And while I think evolutionary psychology can be silly, I also think they are giving us some very interesting insights into morality and behavior. Also, it does seem that humans stop and think about things that animals do by instinct. And this doesn't only apply to morality. That is a very odd thing and gets into all the debates about consciousness and so on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Anonymous:We also have to believe, as Crowhill pointed out, that man had a unique and amazing relationship with god at some point, fully comprehending his commands in at least some form, and then turned from them with full knowledge of the consequences. If any of these is not true:- man never knew god to begin with and thus Jesus cannot "restore" us to anything- man did not know god's commands and thus cannot be guilty of transgression (kid shoots parent with gun, unaware of what it was and that it was lethal)- man was not aware of the consequences and thus cannot be held fully responsible.Evolution predicts a smooth and gradual shift. "The Fall" requires an intervention in communication with god at some point in a tangible way. If god communicated directly then, I cannot see why he is prevented from doing so today. And I mean specifically like: "Don't eat from tree x" or "Get the US out of Iraq".The "soul" is more than simply reason. I hardly doubt you can hold that the "soul" literally evolved. Surely it requires that god gave some human, somewhere, something his parents did not have. Reason alone, especially according to the Catholic Church, does not get one into relationship or belief in Yahweh/Jesus.Also, simply pointing out that our species is at the top of the intellectual pyramid hardly shows anything. Does god favor the great apes more than dogs since they are the next closest? I agree with Crowhill in that there are some studies indicating that animals have definite signs of morality. One such study reports that when faced with an option to pull a chain for food which will simultaneously shock an unrelated fellow, 87% of macaque monkeys will starve themselves for up to 2 weeks rather than harm another (LINK).While we would not consider them as moral, what reason is there to deny any morality? I see these as signs and it fits beautifully with what evolution predicts: a variation of species, some more developed than others. Those which survive should be better adapted to their surroundings. Were a nuclear holocaust to occur… the environment would change so that only animals able to endure it would survive. Aliens visiting our planet at that time would perhaps conclude that only cockroaches were valuable to god? Or even at present, surely bacteria, viruses, and spores are far more prevalent and thriving than any humans!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    Hendy said "If god communicated directly then, I cannot see why he is prevented from doing so today. And I mean specifically like: 'Don't eat from tree x' or 'Get the US out of Iraq'." But that's getting way beyond our pay grade. If there was some cosmic change in God's relationship with man after the fall, then … there was some cosmic change in God's relationsihp with man after the fall. And who knows what that would have changed? I don't think it's much use to speculate on what God could have done or how things could have been different (or whatever) because we simply have no idea. The difficult thing about the moral monkeys is wondering whether they actually think about things — "gee, if I eat, those guys will get shocked. Should I do it?" — or if there's just some mechanism in their brains that causes a certain behavior. Other social creatures (like bees) do apparently "moral" things, and we don't think for a minute that they have agonizing moral debates about it. They just do it. So somewhere along the line moral behavior crossed over from being an instinct to being a course of action deliberately chosen. That's a weird problem, IMO. Or, to put it in the language of consciousness, what's the evolutionary advantage of qualia?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    My point is that you make people by evolution, therefore it is silly to say "we were made by evolution, god couldn't have done it" – I am not making an argument for or against the existence of god, just pointing out that the anthropic principle makes evolution a silly way to attack it. Its like looking at a cement truck pouring the foundation of a house and presuming that the company that hired them can't possible intend to make a house, since ever house you've been in is made with wood – ignoring that perhaps you simply were not knowledgeable about foundations. Now I suppose you could argue that God created the world in 6 days 5 thousand years ago, and simply designed it to look like a 15 billion year old universe with evolution, etc… but that rabbit hole leads to a world view in which logic, reason, god, AND science are all useless. So if we negate that option you are left with the fact that we evolved, via natural selection, from a common ancestor (at least to all known life on this planet).Since that is true, any religious view that is incompatible with that is DEMONSTRABLY wrong, therefore it becomes ridiculous to attack a religious view which claims compatibility with that (such as Catholicism) on the grounds that it must also be wrong.As for the "evolution" versus "addition" of a soul to human beings at some point on the line I would point out that there are many views which posit the evolution of 'consciousness' which could correspond to what you mean when you say 'soul' – I refer you to panpsychism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panpsychism as one example – part of the issue is that you, I, St Thomas, or any typical Christian, may not mean the same thing when they say 'soul'. Catholics hold that animals, and all living things, have souls but only humans have eternal souls. St. Thomas Aquinas defined the soul as "the first principal of life in those things in our world which live." – you cannot add attributes to that which he did not and then argue against his views on it.No with regard to the fall, you are defining "communication with god" in two different ways. We cannot begin to speculate on what that meant in the time of "adam and eve" – and the Catholic church does not profess literal truth in any part of the old testament. As far as theology goes all that is required is that at some point there were two creatures (one male, one female) who were in good with god, they rationally chose poorly falling from grace, AND that all humans are descendants of them. I don't see why that presupposes that they couldn't have evolved their souls, souls are not physical and therefore we have no way of developing a science to discover facts about them, the fact that they aren't physical entities makes the concept of them incongruous with the fact that I am even referring to them as if they were in this paragraph.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Obviously all this stuff presupposes a few non-provable things, hence the term faith I suppose, but If you get down to the brass tacks of what is needed to believe I don't find all the other stuff that absurd. If you accept the existence of a creator god, who is a personal god that can act in the world, who is also unknowable, ununderstandable, and ineffable, why is it that hard to suppose he may have intervened more at some points in history and less in others? This entity created the universe, why would it be hard to imagine he chose to make people via evolution by means of natural selection? Why would you suppose to know how he chooses to treat things he 'finds valuable'? Under that theory I could look at an aquarium in you house and say 'there is 50 gallons of water in that tank and only a few onces of fish, Hendy must really value all that water and the fish must be just an ancillary nuisance!' People, no organism really, do not exist in a vacuum. People exist in an eco-system. Here is a little thought experiment, try to imagine describing a cat without describing its environment at all, you can't no matter what you have to say about anything you are relying on preconceived notions about its ecosystem, or providing new information about it. Of course none of this backs up the 'supremacy' of people over creation, it just points out that shear number of organism is irrelevant.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    On an unrelated note, Mark, After reading your responses here, and being quite impressed, I clicked through to see that you were an evangelical, and have written several books… Your perspective here does not strike me as what I would expect from an evangelical, would you say your books are more targeted at that audience, I mean are they meant to address someone coming from an evangelical world view, or do they address a wider audience?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Crowhill: fair enough. You are correct that one cannot suppose what god could or should have done. I simply find it of note that even post-fall we have fantastic stories of one-on-one conversation even with the first murderer, Cain. We have clear communication of purpose, direction (move from here to here, kill these non-believing people, build worship temples with these dimensions and colors, etc.) and today we see none of this. It would be a wonderful sign for non-believers to see this specific one-on-one interaction with current believers today. Surely I will receive a flurry of responses that this is exactly what god is doing today through personal prayer and Christian communities or speaking through scripture. Even still, the depictions in the good book are emphatically not here today.@Charles: it boils down to which seems more likely — that like ever other animal, we evolved naturally and are simply a higher ordered creature… or that something special occurred with us via a divine realm and this is the cause for our intellectual and moral superiority.Given that the Christian teaching rests on (as you admitted) unprovable events… why would someone be compelled to believe the story? Why suppose a perfect moral state, followed by a transgression, followed by a sexual perpetuation of this fallen condition throughout every future generation rather than suspecting that we, too, have conflicting animal instincts between various centers of the brain. Our instincts for reproduction, self-preservation, protection from non in-group members, etc. are extremely high just as one would expect them to be should we share common ancestry with "lesser" beasts.I also have to suppose that whoever this "first man" was who was just slightly different from his parents… would not have died had he not sinned. Really, do you see any reason to suppose this aberration?Not only did first man x and first woman y evolve slowly and become "man" when essentially non-distinguishable from their parents, but they suddenly gained immortal souls when their parents only had "regular souls", also received clear commands from god and their parents did not, and were born immortal from mortal parents only to lose that immortality after transgressing with probably what was a reduced brain capacity and perhaps even lesser moral sense.I think it does become important to establish the cognizance of the first man in order to establish his culpability which would deserve eternal death.Also, it is not a given that the first "man" should have immediately been in the presence of a corresponding female, is it? Surely whatever "man" was could have been the first of his kind with a particular gene and gone on reproducing until this gene found another match in a female to produce another and so on. There is nothing to suggest that the mutation which produced a first "man" happened twice in the same exact life span and that the first "man" and first "female" happened to meet for intercourse. The first "man" and first "woman" could have been separated by quite a distance and simply gone on reproducing with "not-man" and "not-woman" until the "man" and "woman" possessing animals gradually increased in population size.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Hendy, I cannot answer why you should believe the story, as I don't have an answer as to why I should believe it :)Also you keep supposing that the evolutionary fact somehow preclude the christian story, where I keep saying that they are not exclusive. the why you describe evolution is a simplified form of what science knows to be true. The only aspect that the doctrine of original sin requires is that we are descended from 2 individuals with souls, not a population as you suspected. Now if science were to prove beyond a doubt that not everyone is descended from a common ensouled ancestor catholic theology would have an issue.As for the 'live forever' seeing how everyone why is saved by god will 'live forever' (keeping in mind that eternity is a time free concept, and not a temporal 'forever') I don't think the myth presupposes that they were going to live forever in their corporeal state as you envision. I will say that I am not well versed on creation aspects of theology s o I may be incorrect in this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Keep in mind that this 'event' you ascribe all this significance to could have, in actuality, just been that the moment man had evolved to reason he made the choice to sin. That is not so hard to believe since men and women choose to sin constantly in the current world, regardless of whether you view it as fallen or not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Charles:I'm a former Evangelical, now Catholic.Can't chat right now. Too busy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    @Hendy — yes, it is a strange thing that God seems to have spoken to lots of people in the Bible, but now when God speaks to people we figure they're crazy. There are various theories to explain such things. A private theory of mine (back when I cared about such things) was to make reference to the passage in Daniel about the 70 weeks. It speaks of "sealing up vision and prophecy." But I think we agree that it's awfully weird, but not much of an argument one way or another.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Damnit. Blogger ate my entire last comment. What a PITA.@Charles (much briefer this time):The fall at the minimum requires one to believe:- no harm/death/pain prior to the fall— perhaps you have an alternate understanding to present. My understanding has always been that god created the world perfectly good and all evils and hardships entered with our severing the intimate relationship with him we once enjoyed.- man was able to completely understand god's commands and the consequences for those commands and one's parents were not.— if we were unable to understand… we couldn't possibly be guilty- parents had mortal souls and offspring had immortal souls— I'm leaning toward everyone initially being intended to live forever in a paradise earth, but can't find a definitive stance on that in the CCC. The closest I come is in 413 with: "God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. . . It was through the devil's envy that death entered the world" (Wis 1:13, 2:24).In any case, the problem with "reason" being equivalent to the "soul" is that said reasoning capacities must also have translated to a special ability to live forever with god.Another issue I have is that should god have revealed himself once man was first able to perceive him, why were there so many other religions in circulation as Judaism emerged? What were they worshiping? I find it more likely that our evolved desires for protection, not dying, and whatever else lead us to invent deities and causes for events we don't understand.Lastly, you don't seem to grasp the "population" point… we have no reason to suspect that if the "soul" is an evolutionary result that parents A & B produced male reasoning human X in the same generation or geographical region as parents C & D produced female reasoning human Y. Either X or Y could have come about with the mutation that would eventually lead to the homo genus and gone about reproducing with non reasoning members of the same species and much, much later these genes eventually led to the branches of the homo genus that are all extinct now except for us.To suppose 1 soul-endowed man and 1 soul-endowed female to mate by being around during the same generation in the same geographical region strikes me as asking a lot.I find the opposing view as simpler and requiring less "oddities": we're evolved, high functioning mammals. We were not a perfect being who fell and is now "contaminated" but have been a "mixed-bag" all along as our primitive reptile-brains conflict with higher mental capacities and learned/developed/socially-taught moral practices.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I grasp the population point, and understand evolutionary biology to a degree. Its a theological point that according to catholic doctrine we must all be descended from the first man and woman.I don't understand why you insist on this 'perfect' pain free life prior to original sin. It again strikes me as you arguing with your own definition against someone as if they hold your view when in fact they don't.I do admit that I will have to read more on this aspect of theology to have a more coherent response, however you are elevating this to a much more complex level than I would suspect actual dogma requires – there are a lot of widely held, and not-so-widly held beliefs that aren't in fact dogma yet don't disagree with the church (see limbo) – I was simply boiling it down to all that is required for Catholic theology to work, I was not stating that it was a scientific fact that we all share a common "ensouled" ancestor.The think you seem to be missing is that all that is required is that we all come from one male and one female, and that all descendants of those two have souls, have 'original sin', and have the ability to accept 'Gods grace'. I am not debating hominid populations, or group dynamics vis-a-vis evolution I am simply stating that I know I have read JPII specifically stating that this must be true according to catholic teaching.Now obviously certain things in the past with regard to popular thought have changed, Augustine clearly believed genesis to be literally true, however he had no scientific data with which to see that was not the case, the church has been able to accept modern science (sometimes less eagerly than others) because the basic "facts" – in the church;s view – don't change and are not dependent on such things.I have often found that in my own strident atheism I would argue against positions that learned religious people didn't actually hold. I think that you are ascribing too much to the creation story, at least more than the church would require of you. I am not claiming there isn't faith involved, and I am not claiming those items of faith to be 'true' in any sense… just pointing out that the scientific restrictions are not as great as you suppose.One of the more interesting aspects on Catholicism compared to a lot of other Christian sects is the emphasis on a physical, sacramental universe, every scientific discovery is just one more addition to the corpus of Catholic theology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Same issue with my comment!Basically what I said was that I was not discussing evolution scientifically, and I am knowledgeable about it, what I was saying is that I know I have read (I think it was from JPII) that the bare minimum for a Catholic is that at some point we are all descended from one man and one woman, and that all of their descendants have original sin, souls, etc…As far as population dynamics and evolution vis-a-vis a population of pre-human hominids I am not making a claim as to the most likely way we evolved, I am saying for the doctrine of original sin to work there has to be a single man and woman who had immortal souls and who we are all descended from.As for the "no-pain" "immortal lives" "perfect world" pre-fall stuff I see no reason why any of that has to be true, however I will admit I am not terribly well versed in creation theology. It seems to me you have a complicated pre-conceived notion of what the 'fall' must mean and are arguing that instead of arguing what the magesterium actually holds – please keep in mind there are MANY beliefs that are widely held, or minimally held that are compatible with Catholic teaching yet are not required to be held (see limbo, the magesterium makes no definitive claims as to the disposition of unbaptized infant souls, yet many 'great' thinkings have held a variety of views on the issue all of which are compatible with the church)."Few Americans hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they think is the Catholic Church" –Bishop Fulton Sheen I don't know how accurate Bishop Fulton Sheen was, but I do know that if you are going to criticize doctrine, you have to at least give it the respect to criticize what is actually doctrine and not what may just be widely held belief. Obviously ancient church fathers viewed genesis much more literally than the church does now, however they had not the insight which modern science provides. The church may have had various degrees of difficulty over the years coming to terms with some aspects of science, but one of the interesting (in my mind at least) aspects of the Catholic emphasis on the physical, sacramental universe is that every scientific discovery simple becomes a new illumination of the Catholic view of God. Science is not something fighting Catholicism, as it is for many sects of Christianity, it is an integral way to learn more about creation and subsequently about God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Looks like it didn't eat the first comment. I guess you can now see how well I rephrased what I said!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles:Thanks for the continued comments. I think I've been fairly generous in my adapted focus on the bare minimum of what would need to be required. What is still lacking is any compelling reason to suspect that "the fall" took place rather than suspecting that natural evolution, no souls, no theistic intervention, no perfect state -> imperfect state, etc. took place in the least.I am a former Catholic and am not attacking an intentional straw man if that's what seems to be going on. To be fair, neither of us perhaps has the "exact" understanding of what is required.I will admit that during "my quest" I have found it frustrating to pin down anything that "must be so" in order to actually study and analyze it.The Fall is one of the few places where science, god and history should all intersect. Jesus is another but that debate is so obscure that I've found it quite difficult to grasp who's definitively right.I hear you but you do see that your position amounts to: "Whatever is discovered by science is true and supported by the Church and we must have faith that no matter what conflicts appear to occur, science is the tool god used to bring about his creation and salvation plans."Thus at least fundamentalism makes a definitive stance on what's true "for sure" and what's not. With other forms of Christianity, I find it very difficult to actually hold a debate for the rules are ever changing.Is anything I will bring up from history a valid point?- No discovery of an Exodus or Egyptian captivity? [1]- Jericho already down? [2]- No evidence to support that Nazareth was active during Jesus' life [3]I have no doubt that you can find responses to all of these points from apologists. In any case, my point is that the more any of these holds ground and the Church edges back on the "literalness" of certain scriptures… why are the rest to be taken "literally"?It seems as if there is no issue with a "figurative" fall (I'm still not even sure what that would entail), perhaps a figurative Exodus, figurative ark, maybe even figurative patriarchs… but literal sayings of Jesus and miracles. Once we cross the NT barrier, everything needs to be real. Do you see this as accurate?I'd happily accept if you could lay down the minimum requirements of the fall as well. I don't think I missed them when I wrote my original three points up above:- parents = mortal souls, son = an immortal soul that was the result of evolution- parents = no morality/comprehension of god, son = full comprehension of god's commands, intimate relationship, and full knowledge of the consequences of sin- pain/death are unresolved at this point, I suppose. Is the earth seen as completely "good" even with natural disasters and pain present to the first man/woman pair?- lastly, what if one man evolved a reason but no woman had yet evolved the same genetic mutation to match him in possessing reason/soul? Does this work? If not, I still see no reason to suspect that it was more likely than not that two "full humans" evolved in the same generation, in the same location, and were coupled with one another.P.S. I don't "hate" the Catholic Church, I just want to know if it's telling the truth :) The amorphous nature of theology makes it very difficult to answer this question. The goal posts keep moving, the "I've got a possible answer to that" apologetics keep coming out of the sleeves, etc. It's tricky to pin things down and study it as it never seems clear what one should actually be looking at.[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus#Archaeology2 http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/middle_east/jericho.html3 http://www.nazarethmyth.info/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06277513602373430937 Rek

    Hi Charles,I confess I am not and have never been Catholic. I was raised evangelical, so my primary experience with Christianity has been through more Bible-based understandings of the faith. That said, I don't see how a reasoned intellectual Catholic can just fall back on "the Magisterium hasn't ruled on this dogmatically, so we don't have to think about it".What I think Hendy is getting at, is that to some degree all Christians must take the Bible to be inspired by god, or else they literally have no basis whatsoever for their faith. I understand that the Catholic Church, more than most other Christians, takes particular liberty with dismissing (some) problematic scriptures as "metaphorical" or whatever. However, if you are going to believe in the doctrine of the Fall and the consequent Original Sin, it would seem necessary that there be some explanation as to how this occurred, or what preceded it.To be clear, my problem (and I assume Hendy agrees) is that the actual history of man seems to preclude any type of "Fall", metaphorical or otherwise. On the one the hand, we are not the only self-aware species, nor are we the only ones to use tools. On the other, we did not choose to evolve and develop as we did, so we can hardly be culpable for whatever happened at that point when homo whatever became homo sapiens sapiens. If the jury were out on the story of human evolution, I could understand the claim "we just don't know how the Fall happened." However, the actual story seems to leave no room for it whatsoever. Thus, human evolutionary history may be said to count as evidence against any "Fall" and thus against the entire Christian narrative. It is for this reason that we atheists find so unsatisfying (and intellectually disingenuous) the idea that a Catholic can avoid the Fall question by falling back on the lack of dogma concerning the topic.Now, if you feel that I am still missing the point, please explain to me (as succinctly as possible) the Catholic worldview concerning Original Sin, the nature of man, and what exactly "grace" is supposed to do for us as moral agents on earth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06277513602373430937 Rek

    Also, I wrote my comment before Hendy posted his. I agree entirely: at some point you have reduced so much scripture into metaphor that you have utterly demolished your basis for taking seriously any of the parts you claim reflect absolute truth. I think this is most salient with the Fall story (to say nothing of the manifold problems with the Jesus narrative, one of which Hendy already noted). This situation becomes particularly problematic in the face of such dogma as the innate sinfulness of homosexual relationships or sacerdotal celibacy or "it is better to let a woman die needlessly than abort her fetus that would die anyway".If the Church–and presumably you–are going to make such serious and controversial moral claims that profoundly affect people's lives, you had better have a damn good grounding for your metaphysics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I can't believe that me of all people is in the position of trying to defend catholic doctrine.You should both read Verbum Dei, the Second Vatican Council's apostolic constitution on the interpretation of scripture. Literalness is not demanded of the old testament (I can not speak for certain on the new testament so I will leave aside your points on the absurdity of thinking parts of the NT are literally true, etc) However I will state that you have to keep in mind the biblical cannon is a group of different texts written over many many years by many different people that was decided upon in the 300s (And not officially decreed by the Latin church until Trent in the 1500s!). Also the 'hate' quote wasn't meant to attack you, just to stake my stand that you are ascribing things the church doesn't actually believe.Rek, you have my point EXACTLY backwards, I wasn't saying the church doesn't decree it so don't think about it, I was saying that the church hasn't decreed on it, so you can feel free to think about it ALL YOU WANT! All it means is don't attack 'the faith' on a point about genesis that 'the faith' doesn't actually hold, in fact debate and argue it and work on it!Hendy, as for the 'facts' you list. What I am saying is that we KNOW we evolved. That does not make it a good argument against God, since you make people by evolving them. This would be akin to seeing a loaf of yeast leavened bread and saying "that wasn't baked by a baker because if I were to bake a loaf of bread I would have made a quick bread" – Scientifically we know that you "make" a "human" by evolution, therefore you cannot criticize 'god' for doing that. (This presumes you define "human" as 'any creature residing on planet earth which belongs to the species homo sapiens')Rek, Hendy : as for the "fall" – as I have said I find the idea of a peaceful earth as Hendy described preposterous, however that MAY be required by Catholic theology, this is what you get when the guy defending the magesterium is an atheist that recently decided to start going to Mass every sunday! But what it boils down to is theologically all that is required is:A) that we are all descended from a single pair of humans.B) that those humans had the power to reason right from wrong.C) that they chose to sin.– clearly this requires some definitions, like "sin" but that may be above my pay grade. As for the "existence" of a "soul" you (Hendy) seem to be attributing a physical characteristic to a soul when you say it must be more than "reason" and this is where things may get a little esoteric but a soul has no physical attribute, I know that some christians hold that all souls were created by god OUTSIDE OF TIME and therefore are "inserted" into a body at some point (conception, gastrulation, etc…). Others contend that the soul is created at the point it gets a body – I am not sure if the Catholic church has a stance on this, although I am under the impression that catholic souls don't exist without bodies).Now if you take the points I have laid out, and can accept one more thing:* modern people have a propensity to do wrong.The idea that we are "fallen" from a state of grace is not that hard to envision (even absent believe in a creator deity) In fact other religions (Buddhism for example) don't rely on a creator deity and hold that man is 'fallen' in a sense, and they even have branches that disagree on a Buddhist form of the 'sola fide' argument. This very fact leads me to the conclusion that the problem of human existence and morality is clearly universal and not an accident of western culture. Once again I disclaim that I am even less a Buddhism expert than a Catholic expert, and I am CLEARLY not an expert in Catholicism!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Rek on a side note… I make NO CLAIMS here to be defending any "serious moral claims" that the Catholic church may or may not teach, I am simply explaining my view of what they do teach.The issue with "homosexual relationships" you cite may or may not be a misunderstanding. The church DOES NOT teach that being homosexual is 'innately sinful' as you say, the church teaches that ANY sexual act which is outside of marriage, and not possibly pro-creative is sinful.As for your view on the churches abortion stance you are once again mistaken. The church holds that the death of a fetus is allowed if it is the byproduct of a medical procedure on the woman. (this is vastly simplified and I point you to the vast array of writings on the concept of "double effect" which is CENTRAL to catholic moral teaching) – I will point out that respect for the dignity of ALL human life is central as well, catholic moral thought is NOT utilitarian and therefore must weigh the life of the unborn human as equal to the life of the mother.also you cite sacerdotal celibacy as dogma, which it is not… it is simply a requirement of the current church that 'could' be changed by the church should they wish to (The latin church recognizes the orders of the eastern churches which allows diocesan clergy to marry)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06277513602373430937 Rek

    Charles, Your point about the Catholic Church's stance in re: abortion is, if I understand it correctly, mistaken. The Church automatically excommunicated a nun who saved a woman's life by aborting a fetus that would have died anyway. The Church is more decisive on abortion than it is on pedophilia.I'm aware of the Church's teaching on sexual morality, and my point still stands. I find their position abominable and do not see how they have demonstrated sufficient epistemological or moral grounding for making such a heinous claim.The "fallen" paradigm still doesn't hold water. I am also no expert on Buddhism, so I won't address it. As for Christianity, the Genesis image decisively gives the impression that our original ancestors were morally superior to us in a major way. There is absolutely no reason to believe this, and the evidence strongly suggests it is false. It is quite possible to say that humans have consistently failed to build an ideal world or (generally) to live up fully to their ideas of what constitutes moral behavior/what makes a good person. I think most of us would agree with such statements. However, to say man is flaw in re: his own ideal is very different from saying he is fallen. The former only requires that man can construct an abstract idea of model living in a model society (and we've been doing this at least since Plato). The latter requires that 1) we or our ancestors were once morally perfect, or at least capable of being so in a way that we now are not; 2) our ancestors somehow made the rational choice to become less than perfect (I don't understand how/why anyone would do this); 3) something in the physiology of man changed such that the original sinners passed on their new "fallen" nature to their children (who nonetheless cannot be held morally culpable for who/what they are). I find all that hard to swallow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles:Ok. We may possibly be talking past one another and I think we both seem to think the other isn't understanding our points. Let's go one by one:ScriptureI'm a current/former Catholic and understand that the OT does not need to be taken literally. You did not seem to grasp the potential implications of this, however. My point is not necessarily that discoveries which contradict the OT prove the Bible wrong… it's that as these discoveries occur and the CC continually back pedals about what needs to be literal vs. figurative it puts scripture on shaky ground in my opinion.Again, if we consider that archaeology has proven certain writers to have been composing fiction or metaphor (when they seemed to intend to document history like the Exodus or Jericho), there is less of a reason to automatically exclude the NT writers from the same suspicions. If events reported 2500 years ago are seen as only figurative, perhaps those from 2000 years ago are in the same category. Why the double standard?The perhaps too-obvious answer to me would be that, in essence, the CC does not rest very heavily on the OT except when speaking of the fall, being inherited as sons of Abraham, and certain prophets (Jesus being in the line of David) and thus has no issues with letting it go. In fact I imagine many think it would be far more convenient to not have to reconcile commands to kill non-believers and land-possessors with "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This is speculation, though…cont…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    …contThe Fall (Facts)Here's right out of the appropriate Catechism section (summarized/paraphrased but check it yourself — it's short):- took place "at the beginning of the history of man"- it was a free choice which entailed a "radical" rejection of god- Adam and Eve were in an original state of holiness and justice- At the fall "death makes it's way into human history"- Original sin is somehow transmitted from Adam to all future mankind but it remains a "mystery" as to how this happens- god knew we would sin and allowed it for a greater good- as a result of the fall, all of mankind receives "concupiscence" (a tendency toward sin) and is subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of deathHappy on these facts? This is out of the CCC so we should be good unless you think I misreported anything — check the link yourself.You might also want to check the Wiki article on the CC and evolution, especially the section about polygenism.Essentially it sounds like the majority of the CC supports the theory of monogenism (descent from one literal pair) vs. polygenism (descent from a group of members of the same species).cont…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    …cont+1 FactAlso from the CCC it states that "God created man in his image and established him in his friendship." I take this to mean the ability to be in intimate relationship to god.The Fall (Analysis)Given the basic facts we can all agree on, I am confident my objections still hold:- humans would not have suffered eternal (and possibly physical) death would they not have fallen (death entered the world at the fall)— this means that the first man evolved the possibility of immortal life and his parents had no such privilege- man evolved the ability to be in relationship with god at some point— this means that the first man was in a revealed friendship with god and his parents were not- man evolved a moral capacity which formed the basis for "original holiness and justice"— this means that the first man was infinitely moral (little/no morality compared to perfect morality) and his parents were not- man radically chose against god— this means that the first man was able to know exactly what god wanted with full knowledge of the consequences and radically chose to violate god's wants whereas his parents had no such ability- suffering and tendency toward sin enter the human race— this means that the first man was born with no tendency toward sin and suffered not, then sinned and began to suffer and desire to sin more; also, his parents may have been preserved from suffering as well (?) and did not have this desireThis is contrasted to the view in which the first whatever was essentially indistinguishable from his/her parents and had no supernatural infused immortality whether implanted or evolved. I don't presuppose that the "soul" needs to be physical, but if it literally evolved and was not the result of an act of intervention… what is it and where did it come from? Evolution acts on physical substance and it becomes quite difficult to say that evolution produced something immortal which now survives the physical realm, especially when all previous creatures did not "evolve" this nature.cont…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    …contFinal commentsSome last issues I see are:–Forknowledge–If god foreknew the fall and couldn't have just bypassed it for the "greater good" he desired in the first place? The CCC simply quotes Augustine and Aquinas on supposing that god had a better outcome… but how does that work?Furthermore, how does an omniscient mind "plan" something to accomplish a "greater good"? He literally has to decide that the best way is to plan a "lesser good" which will result in something "better" when omniscience combined with omnipotence suggests that he could have simply attained the "better" good in the first place.Omniscience does not allow for an unseen "lesser good" followed by a "course correction" to achieve the greater good. That's not omniscience…–Polygenism–I continue to hold that it's asking a lot to suspect that parents A & B produced immortal-souled male X who then wound up paired with the immortal souled female Y of parents C & D in the same generation and same time location. I will follow up with someone more knowledgeable about evolution than me to see if my intuitions/basic understanding is correct.Namely, I would not be surprised to find out that male X was a lone mutation who mated with a bunch of others who continued to pass on the gene, perhaps even recessively, until it found a recessive match or mutated again, or something else and then led to the development of a tangible speciation in the homo genus. I find it far more unlikely that the first man with evolved mutation (reason/soul) X happened to find the first woman with the same mutation and those to automatically paired and produced all of the future human race.–Terrors of the world–The CCC says that the fall is the moment when satan gained dominion over the world and mankind. Do you have an understanding of what this dominion entails? Natural disasters? Only free-will inspired evils? Subjection to harmful parasites, diseases, bacteria, and the like? Again, I see no reason to suspect that these were not present before the fall and thus have no reason to see how many was preserved from all suffering and then subjected to it immediately after via the powers of satan.–Convenience Factor–It continues to be convenient, in my mind, that several things in the linked CCC page are said to be "known" by revelation, yet many others remain "mystery." With what reliability can we judge facts from the Bible as "knowable"? When does it seem far more likely that if Adam and Eve are figurative, they simply serve as a way the ancient peoples explained the creation of the world in their culture. It didn't mean they actually "knew" anything! We're left with cancelling out almost all factual assertions from it and keeping on those theologically necessary to support the need for Jesus to die on a cross.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Rek your understanding of the Arizona nun case is mistaken, not my understanding. First of all the church doesn't 'automatically' excommunicate. Automatic excommunications happen the moment the sin is committed, what happened in that case was the bishop said "i believe she suffered auto-matic excommunication in this instance" – also excommunication in Catholicism isn't the same as many other religions, one can heal the excommunication simply by repenting the sin. This particular case was VERY poorly reported in the press, and to many catholic moral scholars it is not entirely clear that the abortion was immoral in this case, and if it was it is unclear whether the nun participated to a degree to warrant an excommunication.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Rek I don't see how you get that our ancestors were once morally perfect, especially since according to genesis our very first ancestors that were capable of sinning DID JUST THAT!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Hendy, you seem to get what I am saying and I see what you are saying, yet you keep arguing the point. I agree with most of your statements, and less of your conclusions. First, "death" in this sense clearly refers to the "death" of hell versus the "life" of the beatific vision (as Aquinas put it). Second, the first man and woman may have been siblings destroying your entire theory of multiple groups of parents. Also there are many instances of multiple mutations within a population occurring simultaneously and not producing an effect until combined, I can cite several Dawkins books on this subject if you like, but off the top of my head I know it is discussed in The Blind Watchmaker.Third, Questioning the 'foreknowledge' of god in this situation, when presumably one has already accepted the virgin birth and the trinity, in order to be a Catholic, seems a little silly :) – However theologically speaking, since god created time and therefore exists separate from it, you have to realize that at the moment of creation God had already been incarnated and crucified for Adam and Eve's sin, adn the rest of the sins of mankind – if this is hard to grasp, or seems ridiculous I direct you to the beginning of this paragraph :)Fourth, I hold that the state of divine grace that adam and eve were in simply means a world without sin, however at the first opportunity they brought sin into the world so I contest on practical grounds the assertion that they were holier than us in practice! Think of it like a small child before the age of reason, once they can choose to sin they do!Finally, on the backpedaling…. they are NOT backpedaling, they don't change what they require of people with science, they have always interpreted scripture. It is simply that prior to science one had no reason not to accept certain things as 'literal'. On the 'literal' front I think you are judging the written down stories of an oral tradition culture against our standards of fact. Obviously in the world of video tape, photoshop, and TV the standards for a 'story' are much higher. People in an earlier culture understood that stories were told by a teller who was human, I mean if they didn't they wouldn't have made the biblical canon contain multiple gospels that contradict themselves on such fact based things as the genealogy of jesus, or roman censuses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Finally – Aquinas believed the non-evil world simply amounted to Adam and Eve making good choices when it came to dangerous things! So I think you are over interpreting Catholic teaching. Which is something I have come to realize I long did when I was much more militant in my atheism – we can get into this more if you like but it is also my contention that atheists take religion for more 'seriously' than most reasonable theists!Rek, on the morality thing, trust me when I tell you that I IN NO WAY mean to defend the Catholic practical stance on homosexuals. I will respect their rights to view sex the way they do though… In fact since investigating catholicism I have found that being a staunch lefty has put me in far more agreement with catholic social thought than I would have thought. I am actually wrestling with how anyone could possibly hold right-wing views and consider themselves in line with the church. (My only issues seem to be on gay rights though the bishop pay lip service to everyone having equal rights, also while I can see the views on abortion I don't agree at all with the reaction to it, just because I find something immoral doesn't mean the best course of action is to outlaw it, etc…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06277513602373430937 Rek

    Charles,If this bishop claims, as you concede, "she suffered auto-matic excommunication", then how was she not "automatically excommunicated"? The Bishop went on to declare that she had to expelled from her order unless that order could find a comparable punishment. I find morally abominable the idea that the nun did anything wrong, and it only adds insult to considerable injury to punish her for this "evil". If this characterization is inaccurate, please provide a link to a source that better describes what actually happened. As it stands, it would seem that she was, in fact, "declared…automatically excommunicated" and probably has been expelled from her order by now (she was certainly transferred). To drive the point home, the Bishop's own statements in this Catholic website and this other one support my reading of the situation and point out that the bishop went on to excommunicate everyone involved in the decision. Again, if you disagree, please provide a link. I'm glad there's disagreement within the Church, but the fact that this is even controversial for them disgusts me.By "morally perfect" in re: our ancestors, I mean they were fully and naturally capable of living perfect lives. (Which, again, raises the question of who would actually freely choose otherwise in such a situation, but I digress.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Rek, Automatic excommunication isn't declared, it is automatic! She was not in fact expelled from her order, and a few websearches will turn up catholic articles with differing views on the issue, I know of some in America, Commonweal, and in the vatican's own paper. Whether or not you find it reprehensible is valid as far as your judgement of the church goes, I just point out that you arepicking a single case you don't have all the facts on. I do suspect that you would be in favor of any abortion making this a case where you clearly disagree with catholics

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles:I'm presently heavily doubting my former faith and thus don't already "accept" the virgin birth and what-have-you. Sure, if God is outside of time, he had done everything he was going to do already. The point is that human beings suffer needlessly and much through time when they could have just had "the greater good" in the first place. More souls will be lost than if from the start we had been created into heaven to share in god's glory and in relationship with him— No, we need free will, one might say— But Mary simply by god's choice did not desire sin at all and is human. Just because she was god's mother doesn't mean she's the only one god could possibly create in this manner— Most don't seem to hold that rebellion is possible in heaven and thus it doesn't seem to be logically impossible to simply start life in heavenI don't know what happened in evolution. What I'm saying is that there is zero evidence there to support a fall scenario where all of the above is required of natural processes, and all the reason in the world to suppose that things went on completely naturally. No one had any more communication with a spirit than any other previous ancestor. No man had an immortal potential when his parents didn't. We've all just progressed along. Just like that. For millions of years. And will keep on doing so until we obliterate ourselves or the sun goes extinct. There seems to be no reason to suspect that only one man and woman existed as the first pair and that they mated and became the parents of all future humans any more than one many with the human mutation mating with countless woman (being the alpha male that he was) or a non-reasoning-endowed woman and still passing on the gene.Re. sin entering: suffering should not have been present. Do you disagree? Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve, whoever they were, should have had blissful amazing lives cognizant of god's commands for them. This is required to make it work as they needed to choose to reject those commands and thus inherit the sh*t storm that is the world today for all of future mankind. I see no way around this by stating that the world just always was how it is and all that happened is a man "woke up" one day and committed action x that was displeasing to god.Theology, as far as I've always understood, has implied physical and tangible changes to the environment in which man exists as a result of sin. Do you disagree?Great — death = hell. Still, parents A & B have no shot at immortality and then evolved mutation produces son X with immortality… why on earth should one be compelled to accept this without any evidence?Maybe we should wrap this up. I don't have a ton of time to put into this (obviously I already have). In essence, all we're arguing about is a religious faction's method to explain why sometimes people do good and sometimes they do bad. God could not have created bad so obviously we were created perfect and then made ourselves bad with the help of an idiot who though he knew he had no chance of winning, still rebelled against god (satan)… That's really it. We just need a story to explain why we're broken because most people perhaps don't like the idea that we were never made perfect but are animalistic like every other creature. If not made perfect and self-induced eternal death… no need for a redemption to provide eternal life… which means when we die. We die. End of game.Other than the need to explain our experience of conflicting emotions… do you see any reason to suspect a fall scenario of any kind?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I am finding the discussion fascinating, however you are right that it is time to wrap it up.I would suggest you read this http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm from about 385 on. You will see a clearly metahorical discussion as I have been maintaining. "Great — death = hell. Still, parents A & B have no shot at immortality and then evolved mutation produces son X with immortality… why on earth should one be compelled to accept this without any evidence?" — if you go back far enough your great-great-great-…-great-great grandparents were single celled is that any less plausible?Honestly as far as doubting your faith vis-a-vis the virgin birth, I was speaking in general as to all catholics… when I first returned to mass I was talking with a friend about how that was a tougher thing to believe than a creator god, he (being an atheist) said why if you believe the first istn the rest just plausible?As for me, I was raised catholic, refused confirmation and spent the rest of my life a hard-core militant non-theist that hated the church. Now I am realizing that I was just a little over reacting – I may not buy the Christian stuff, yet?, but its intellectually interesting at this point. I realize now that there are a lot of crazy Catholics, or Christians, but at the core a lot of that nonsense isn't even required in the faith, same as there are a lot of misinformed atheists who don't know the first thing about evolution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12103905129399107125 Mark P. Shea

    Hendey:Sorry my input has been so spotty (and will continue to be. Part of the result of the fall is that whole "earning bread by the sweat of the brow" thing and, as a self-employed writer I'm busy writing stuff at present). However, I did want to make a single observation as the conversation fractal out of control. Namely, it seems to me that all of the sundry objections and complaints here wind up being a sort of chaotic stew based either on a) reiterations of the only two objections to the existence of God that St. Thomas could ever find or b) irrelevant crap. My meager suggestion would be that, as think through the chaos of suspicion and complaint, you be aware that there are, at the end of the day, only two respectable objections to the existence of God and that the rest is, in fact, crap. To that end, I offer a little piece I once wrote called Padding the Case for the New Atheism which tries to trim some of the rhetorical fat out of the argument.Sorry I don't have more time, but I hope that helps.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Hendy, I want to leave you with this excerpt from a book called "Almost Catholic" By Jon M. Sweeney-Doubters and Believers, Atheists and Agnostics “I rather believe in doubting.The only people I’ve met in this world who never doubt are materialists and atheists.” —Malcolm Muggeridge, “How Does One Find Faith?”16 “We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!” —George Bernard Shaw, SAINT JOAN 17 Catholic spirituality and practice not only allow doubt, misbelief, and the refusal to believe but in many ways encourage them! In fact, the so-called lapsed Catholic is often the most concerned of all people when it comes to matters of faith.Why else would they call themselves “lapsed” if they were not conscious of the ideal? One of the surest signs of an inner spiritual life is the frustration, anger, and enthusiasm of the lapsed, the doubter, the one who has intentionally put himself or herself on the outside looking in. Doubt is the most powerful fuel to faith. Even whendoubt batters belief (our ability to agree that something istrue) like a ship at sea during a nor’easter—even then, doubtfuels faith, our wanting to believe. I feel far more comfortable with people who have doubted than I do with those for whom belief always seems to be a lock.Any person who troubles with matters of religion enough to fight against them is someone in whom the spirit is hard at work. I would rather have the pews full of angry atheists and questioning agnostics than of certain or sleepy believers on any given Sunday or Saturday night. Doubting Thomas—the one disciple who insisted on sticking his finger into the wounds of Christ—should inspire us to similarly test and challenge what we are told. We are people with skin and beating hearts, not disembodied spirits, and we want to know what’s what as sure as we possibly can. Why is it that we don’t hear Methodists and Quakers and Congregationalists describe themselves as “lapsed”? The average Protestant will use the term inactive rather than lapsed, or perhaps even former. But to be Catholic is to be a part of something self-defining, something enormous, far bigger than precepts of belonging to a local church could ever communicate. It’s only the feeling of obligation that has left the lapsed. They are still looking.The novelist Graham Greene took to calling himself a “Catholic agnostic” and even a “Catholic atheist” toward the end of his life. 18 Greene was communicating the deep divide that he felt between faith and belief. He had plenty of the first and less and less of the second. The British broadcaster John Humphrys hosted a popular BBC TV show a few years ago called In Search of God. Humphrys, who describes himself as a former Roman Catholic, approaches matters of faith with profound skepticism, energy, and creativity. He interviewed the archbishop of Canterbury, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, and the atheistformer Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, posing challengingquestions to each of these men, and the result was interestingtelevision. A year later, Humphrys followed up the televisionseries with a book titled In God We Doubt: Confessions of anAngry Agnostic. In doubting reflections such as his, you may find more meaningful spirituality and faith than in many of the pious books that glow on the shelves of religious bookshops.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    (excerpt continued)“Mortal eyes cannot distinguish the saint from the heretic,” says one accuser of Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. Indeed, when it comes to faith, it can be nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two. It’s not as if you can spot a follower of Christ the same way you spot a deer in the woods.We don’t wear badges or even head scarves, although we are supposed to be doing certain things that make it easier to find us. If you asked a hundred people what it means to be Christian, they’d give you a hundred different answers. But most would likely say,“I go to church” or “I go to such-andsuch church.”“My parents were Christian.”And “I was raised a Christian. I was baptized when I was young.” Does any of that ultimately matter? The follower of Christ is not necessarily a person that you would expect to meet in church. Consider the example of Mohandas Gandhi. Many Christian observers in India eighty years ago thought that they saw Saint Francis of Assisi in Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi never renounced his Hinduism, but he often declared himself a follower of Jesus Christ. He studied the Gospels and lived by them, carefully.There were times during the 1920s and 1930s when Gandhi would arrive to give a lecture and would simply quote from the New Testament, usually from the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. On one occasion he did this and said, “That is my address to you.Act upon that.” A Hindu intellectual of the 1920s said aboutGandhi: “What the [Christian] missionaries have not beenable to do in fifty years Gandhi by his life and trial andincarceration has done, namely, he has turned the eyes ofIndia toward the cross.” It is ironic but true that Gandhi may have been a more faithful follower of Christ than many Christians have been. Millions of the lapsed and doubting are now creating new-old ways to be Christian and Catholic or just to be believers. As many as five million are involved in house churches in the United States alone, and these are mostly evangelical Christians. Other lay movements such as the Community of Sant’Egidio (Catholic, founded by high school students in 1968 and now numbering more than fifty thousand adherents in seventy countries) and the Focolare Movement (of Catholic origin but broadly ecumenical today; founded in 1943, now with more than five million members) draw people who often feel uncomfortable in traditional churches, even as they want the practice, history, and mystery of faith. Even great saints of history were sometimes “lapsed,” going through their own rebellions, rejections, reformations— whatever you want to call them—before arriving at other ways of doing religion. Francis and Clare of Assisi, for instance, each rejected their mothers and fathers as they went in search of a more meaningful relationship with their heavenly father. Francis literally disowned his father in one of the piazzas of Assisi, and Clare fled home in the middle of the night. What would we think of these rebellions today? Sometimes we see ourselves and others as lapsed or doubting simply because we don’t have the benefit of hindsight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    Mark, I just read your piece, I have to say that it starts off a little presumptive and probably would be a big turn off for most 'atheists' – however anyone who would call themselves a 'bright' probably would disclaim it without finishing it anyway. I also preferred non-theist as a term feeling that atheist was really an untenable position logically, but thats splitting hairs.I will tell you that the statement that 'New Atheists' are closer to Fundamentalists is really a reason I have bothered to move back to Catholicism for now :) – and the end piece about Chesterton commenting on 'not understanding' is about the level I have reached… I can say without hesitation that I am at a point where at least I know now that I wasn't even understanding the question before. One of Dawkins (and I am actually a fan of his having seen him speak more than once and read his books) favorite things to say is that the existence of God is an important question, and to him a universe with a God is a very different thing than a universe without a God.But, this is decidedly no the conversation we have been having, we have not been debating the bigger existence of god questions but reasoning on the smalling question of specifically the logic of 'the fall' in a universe with a god.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles — thanks for the read.@Mark:Where to begin…- disappointed at lack of footnotes. You pop out of nowhere with 10^137 to 1 odds of the fine-tuned universe. That argument has never really sunk in with me as what are the odds that "you" are "you" and not someone else? It's somewhat of a nonsensical question as we only know that the probability of you being you… is 1. We have no idea what is "outside" of our universe and thus there could be other dimensions, more universes… who knows. We're here and that's the starting point I take at least. Contrary to popular [apologetic] opinion, I don't think the most important question to be asking is "why is there something rather than nothing?" or even "but why this universe?"- Whenever "everything popped into existence", laws of nature we now observe also came into existence and thus, yes, the universe is ever so slightly different than loaves and fish.- There is no documentation that martyrs dies for their faith. First of all we have very few records of early believers dying at all; what we have amounts almost entirely to "tradition". Secondly, those who did die are not established to have died for the faith. See Carrier for more on this (the entire article is quite good if you have the time)Accusing atheist of stupid accusations like "all believers are stupid" (which I emphatically do not hold) and then ending with some quotes to support a thesis "all non-believers are just pigheaded" is a little counter-productive. This comes up SOOOO much as to be annoying at this point. I just want the truth. If something doesn't seem right, I want to understand it. If it still doesn't seem right and my choices are 1) don't believe in it or 2) believe in it despite it not seeming right and there being no possible way anyone could know it except from a book… I'm perfectly in a reasonable position to accept #1. We operate in this manner in every area of life except religion.cont…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    …contStraw men abound in claims of "scientism" and everyone's favorite anecdote is how a man could possibly prove his wife loves him in a lab.Simple:1) doubt wife's love2) ask her if she loves you3) write a list of arguments for and against her love, citing direct observed evidence for each argument (signs of affection, care, sympathy vs. signs of rejection, avoidance, coldness)3) ask a bunch of friends and enemies whether they see signs of her love4) carry a tape recorder and record all conversations secretly, play them back to many individuals to get their opinion of whether love or not love are being expressed5) hire a private detective to follower her for 6 mos to see if she does anything suspicious6) compile all of the evidence above and follow it where it leadsSure, you'll reply that nothing is proven but the point is that one can start from either suspecting love or doubting love and arrive at the same conclusions. Should he find himself "feeling" like she doesn't love him despite the opinions of others, the recordings, evidenced exmaples, and private detective report… he should at that point distrust his instincts and trust the external evidence.With god, compose something similar of a test for me to proceed upon, as anything I've thought of ends in zero conclusiveness. "God" has countless forms, people believe anything they want and are perfectly comfortable with it, miracles used to happen but do not anymore, god spoke personally to many but does not anymore, and so on.With respect to miracles… I am absolutely happy for you to suggest any group of pray-ers you want, any believers, any holy men and women for me observe by "getting out of my house" and witnessing their miracles. Perhaps he won't answer my prayers, but surely he has some chosen or favored individual who can bring god's love into the hearts of others with regularity?I just want to truth. To have it insisted upon that should I not reach the same conclusions as your or Chesterton I am willfully rejecting obvious evidence and stuck in pride strikes me as preposterous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles:I agree about what we are discussion. I also think that while atheist arguments may come in only two primary forms (evil as refutation and the "god hypothesis" as unnecessary), there is a third option which allows for the existence of something supernatural while holding that all attempts at explanation are unsupported by evidence, leading them to be no more supported than any other religion or fictitious being.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles:Also regarding the quote… it was interesting but at the end of the day I just don't currently believe. I really hate getting into a dissection of "belief" vs. "faith" or whatever in the world that meant in reference to Graham Greene.I am also unresolved as to how "voluntary" I think belief even is. Surely you admit it's possible you could decide tonight to believe in Islam and all of it's tenants, right? But what would it even mean at this very moment to proclaim it? I imagine it would mean nothing whatsoever.It is in this sense I challenge quotes like the one from Chesterton. I am just finishing up Dubay's Faith and Certitude which was great in some ways, but horrible in that the whole thing has amounted to "the evidence is sufficient, anyone who doesn't see it is willfully hating of god, desirous of hidden immoral motives, and is simply choosing not to believe." I think this is a blatant caricature and falsehood. Shea, Chesterton, and Dubay have no idea what they are asserting when they hold this.Actually, their claim of certainty in this matter is even more ridiculous considering that they consider science not to be proven since it cannot investigate all things in all times and all places. Surely they do not claim to know all non-believers who have ever lived to verify this claim? As Shea says, you can't have it both ways.Anyway, I perhaps come across as harsh (I should go to bed and Shea's article irritated me) but I assure you (and Shea) that I am far more considerate of other beliefs than I ever was prior to this doubt. As a Catholic I was as sure as anyone that the Catholic Church was real, true, and the only way to go. I absolutely empathize with non-believers and those of other traditions now as I consider the answer so far from non-obvious as to be ridiculous. Even if Christianity is true, it is nowhere near evident per careful inspection. This is the problem (regardless of whether god is or isn't) with religions today: all demand an honest evaluation of their faith and want as many to convert as possible and all concurrently deny openness to leaving the bubble to explore other faiths (if there are blatant exceptions to this, I am unaware of them). How is dialog, understanding, and the like to progress when this uncompromising double standard exists between the in-group and out-group and is constantly reinforced in various ways each Sunday?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    Hendy said, 'I am just finishing up Dubay's Faith and Certitude which was great in some ways, but horrible in that the whole thing has amounted to "the evidence is sufficient, anyone who doesn't see it is willfully hating of god, desirous of hidden immoral motives, and is simply choosing not to believe."'Yes, that attitude is very irritating. It was somewhat in response to that sort of thing that I wrote this. http://crowhill.net/blog/?p=8313My experience is that I went from true, heartfelt belief, to having doubts and difficulties, which I labored and struggled to work through, to simply losing my faith. It just disappeared. Of course most believers won't see it that way. It had to be my fault. I had to have some hidden evil motivation. There's no question in their mind that God was doing his part and all that. The fault has to lie with me. Fine, I'll take that. Back when I was a Lutheran we used to say "we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean," and I've never seen anything to make me deny or question that. So where does that get us? Does it move the needle? Does it offer a solution? No. It's just a way for modern believers to deny the unmistakable biblical teaching that God does, in fact, sometimes turn his back on people. And it gives them a way to feel superior to unbelievers. (E.g., "I'm not resisting God like you are!")

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Crowhill: quite an interesting read. It is frustrating, especially since I'm quite prone to psychoanalyzing myself constantly as I do want to know if I'm just being belligerent or pig headed. I tend not to think so and would describe things much like you did:- extremely strong believer- had a question that popped into my head about Jesus/non-biblical historian so I googled it- I was surprised at what I found- I did more research- I decided that I need to research the whole area of god and Christianity- I have simply found that naturalism is more plausible than what needs to be the case for Christianity to be trueThat's about it. So many things strike me as just plain weird should an all-powerful, ever-loving, all-knowing trinity be in power: the ridiculous things people believe instead, a temporal/local sign vs. something to amaze the generations, transition from amazing/direct communication to "senses" and "coincidental signs", experience of him that's based on who-knows-what rather than just having an innate sense of the Christian god within from birth.I coined this pretty early on in my "quest" as a definition for theology:A field of study in which the objective is to convince otherwise rational beings that what they would imagine to be the case were an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god to be in control of the world… is utterly flawed and that not only does this being exist, but in fact the world in which we live is the only way god could have done things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Crowhill: Oh, yeah… I have also thought that these statements re. being hard of heart, having a mental illness of unhealthy skepticism, etc. are simply a last resort should one not be convinced by the evidence.The state of the world's beliefs tend to show that the supposed evidence is anything but conclusive. See this guest post of mine at Debunking Christianity for a little more on that.These days, my prayer is only, "Jesus, give me what I cannot deny" as that is all it would take. I hypothesize that believers have this level of evidence but perhaps don't think they do (?). A simple thought experiment would be for Mark Shea to contemplate just "walking away" from belief. Is it possible for him to do so? I guess, but I suspect he would concede that he would still believe but be forcing non-practice or that he would endure quite the battle trying to "deny" what he formerly believed whole heartedly.If he can agree with the conclusions of that experiment he would see that for me to "believe" would amount to simple rehearsal-of-practices or some meaningless profession when the intellectual assent isn't there in the least…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    It's interesting to me how different believers respond to my loss of faith. Some of them believe I'm going through some sort of long "dark night of the soul" kind of thing and that I'll "recover." Those people seem to respect me and admit the possibility that maybe it's not all my fault (in one sense of "my fault" anyway). Others have to blame me and find some sin that's preventing me from believing. Of course the main suspect is pride. A priest tried that on me one time and I wasn't in the mood to put up with it, so I told him that blaming a person's pride is the last refuge of the man who has no real argument. Anyway, I'd be happy to believe if I had reason to, but I'm not looking. God knows where to find me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Crowhill:"Anyway, I'd be happy to believe if I had reason to, but I'm not looking. God knows where to find me."Interesting. I want to be at that place. Currently I still have reservations and don't feel like I've put enough effort into my search, but admittedly a lot of that could be per the views/requests of the believer circle in which I'm still encapsulated.All along, however, I've been quite frustrated that god has not simply revealed himself to me. I've been prayed over during the last 7mos of doubt, I've been open to what he might want to do, what signs he might want to provide, etc. On some level it would seem like common sense that an omniscient and loving being could reach me (and would reach me) unambiguously.But the conundrum is that this amazing being (who can do anything) came at a time and place (only once) of great superstition and among the births of tons of other religions, many of which survived or further evolved down the road. So… one would think that anyone, anywhere could literally have Jesus Christ revealed out of thin air to him and believe. Or at least hear that they should leave their isolated island village and find a book called, "The Bible."Nope. You only learn through other people telling you. It's how god wanted his message spread in his wisdom. Once. In a distant land. Among people who believed almost anything whatsoever. And now you have to do crazy research in a crazily ambiguous body of information in order to be justified in walking away.Someone once made the wonderful point that you don't need any education whatsoever to join a religion — just the willingness to join. When you want to leave, though, it's then that you need a PhD in theology.Given that most believers don't think non-believers know enough about god to reject him as false, do they think that most believers, then, have enough information to have the slightest clue who they are worshiping/serving/loving?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327655974517447377 Crowhill

    @Hendy, I understand what you're going through, and it's a lousy place to be. I was there for a couple years. It's easy to make accusations against God. "You've spoken to other people, why can't you speak to me?" or "You've got all these angels and saints just laying around. Why can't one of them come talk to me?" Etc. The problem is that there are plenty of ways God can respond. "I've already given you what you need," or "I don't want you to believe that way," or "Deep down you know I really exist," or any number of other things. There's always an excuse and there's no answer. The thing is — and this is the point that most believers and unbelievers don't understand — none of these things are arguments. "If God existed he would give me a sign" is not an argument. Neither is "God has already given you everything you need to believe in him." All these things people say, like "you're just looking for an excuse not to believe," or — from the other side — "so and so converted because he had some deep psychological need" …. It's all crap. It's just ignorant and self-serving opinion. Nobody knows any of this stuff. They're just making up stories to make themselves feel better. Years ago I was among a bunch of Lutherans discussing the conversion of Richard John Neuhaus to Catholicism. They said, "He must have had some deep-seated need for authority." All these things are excuses and justifications … and immensely wrong-headed. There are arguments for and there are arguments against belief. Some people are persuaded one way and some another. And we are absolutely incompetent to figure out the reasons. But that doesn't stop us from making them up. E.g., he's stupid or wicked or wounded or proud or addicted to sex or "needs comfort" or "hates authority" or whatever. If you feel as if you haven't searched enough, then keep searching. Just don't fall for these all-too-common non-arguments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I have to agree with Crowhill. I would find it reprehensible for me to guilt someone into feeling either way, and honestly don't think it matters all that much. I say be true to yourself and don't get so hung up on the details. I have met pigheaded fools who believed in supernatural things and pigheaded fools who didn't, I have also met reasoned intelligent people who were part of a religion and who weren't. You have to decide for you what your conscience says, if it says keep investigating then do so, but in this post enlightenment age don't let anyone think you need to feel guilty for giving upon bronze age mythology!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I think you’re dead on here, Hendy. I’m going to return to the question of whether the kind of information we have about God’s preferences for conversion/belief tells us something about what kind of God we’re talking about and whether he’s worth following. You’re absolutely right that most religions set up a much higher standard of knowledge/evidence for disbelief than belief. (For their sect only, natch).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Charles/Crowhill:Thanks for the comments. I would add that an "objective" perception of one's self is difficult. Conscience and "feelings of peace/satisfaction" are an unsure way to determine if I've "done enough" in my opinion… I constantly second guess myself and absolutely ponder whether I'm really open or whether I really don't have hidden hopes/moral reasons for a particular outcome to this question.So… it becomes tough. Perhaps those will eventually resolve, though.@Leah:I think what you're getting at also speaks an answer to Charles/Crowhill that I failed to specify. In other words, there are absolutely "hidden" assumptions/premises which, as they are right to point out, when omitted do not form an argument. If I add in these specifications, however:(1) god is of omni-max characteristics(2) to be all-loving is to always do that which defines love(3) love is defined as doing what is best for others(4) therefore, god does what is best for others (1), (2), & (3)(5) the best for others is to obtain heaven(6) to obtain heaven, others must know god(7) therefore, the best for others is to know god (5) & (6)(8) therefore, god does that which causes others to know god (4) & (7)(9) but others do not know god(10) therefore god does not existSomething like that. So, when one just says "others do not know god and therefore…", sure — not much of an argument. I think Carrier essentially presents this case nicely HERE.Charles, I do appreciate the openness to one's reason leading where one's reason leads. I agree with Crowhill (though jury still out) that we very well may be absolutely unable to fully determine the reasons some believe and others do not. It is with those who can't possibly understand this in which conversations go the worst…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Oh, and as Crowhill already pointed out… there are countless excuses for why god fulfills (4) and (8) but why (9) is true nonetheless. As Crowhill pointed out, these answers are often that the evidence is obvious, that we can't understand god's ways and hidden purposes, that he won't override free will, etc. Carrier rebuts at least the free-will response in the article.I'm mainly going at this with common sense and how we apply reason to every other aspect of life. Answers abound as to why this area is special and we can't apply the reasoning we were given to the creator himself in whose image we were made, however.

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