Friday, September 18, 2015

The Moral Boats of C.S. Lewis

It’s not too often that I read spiritual books written by non-Catholic thinkers, but I’ve gotten around to reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s astute writing style and use of clever analogies reminds me a bit of Catholic apologists Frank Sheed and G.K. Chesterton. I have read “The Screwtape Letters”, but this is quite different.  The book is based on a series of radio broadcasts Lewis gave during WWII, talking about the Christian faith from a common sense perspective.

The theme stays with the basic ideals of Christianity without digging into the doctrinal and denominational differences, hence the “Mere” in the title. In the beginning of the book Lewis used an analogy of a great hall with many rooms leading out from the hall. The hall is Christianity itself and the many rooms are all the different denominations. He explains how his goal is to get people into the hall, and once inside, they can choose which doors to knock on and which room to finally go into. He cautions that the decision should not be based on which room looks best and has the most comfortable furniture. Rather, one should ask which is the "right" door and the "right" room.  As a Catholic I can certainly agree with that, but I would add that once inside a room, one should continue to study the denomination, its history and its founders. Study the history of the authority and the drill down to the base premises of the faith and see how well they stand up to reason.

The three parts of morality found in Book Three, Chapter I, also employ a clever metaphor involving boats. You have heard the Golden Rule, which is to do unto others what you would have done unto you, but have you heard of the Silver Rule? It says, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." In other words, do what you want as long as you do not hurt others. This is the first part of morality according to Lewis; I think of it as the first stage, since it involves just coexisting peacefully with others. Imagine a bunch of boats traveling together. Many would agree that as long as you do not hit the other boats traveling with you on life’s journey, everything is fine. Few would agree with the Benny Hill rule; “Do unto others, then run.”
Of course, the meaning of “hurt” can lead to an endless game of “point-counterpoint”. Doesn’t abortion involve hurting others? No problem; just change the definition of “others” and magically turn some “others” into “non-persons”. How about assisted suicide? Isn’t that hurting others? Of course not, we just call upon the Dogma of Consent. Does the death penalty hurt others? Some call it justice, but doesn’t it fall more along the lines of revenge in many cases? And what of sadomasochism; hurting others for depraved pleasure is certainly okay, right?

The second part, or maybe the second stage, of morality involves harmonizing what is inside of each individual. Besides not “hurting” others, how should I behave when I am alone? How should I treat myself when alone or with others? Where do my idle thoughts go? Does it matter what my ship is like on the inside as long as I do not hit other ships? It makes some sense on the surface, but stop and think for a moment; if you can’t handle your own boat, how can you possibly expect to avoid collisions with other boats?

The third part ,or third stage, is concerned with the purpose of the journey. What is the nature of the boats and of the ocean itself? Are you really the owner of the boat or are you only a steward?  What is the final destination of the fleet and what is the best course to get there? Erroneous beliefs about the nature of boats and the ocean will lead to wrongheaded thinking; wrongheaded thinking leads to bad boating behavior; bad boating behavior leads to bad boating habits; bad boating habits lead to a bad sailing character; a bad sailing character will lead to a lost fleet and a hopeless journey.
“You cannot make good men by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.”
- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mother of ALL Questions

There are many BIG questions in life like…
  • Why are we here?
  • What’s the meaning of life?
  • What’s the best way to live?
  • How can I have lasting happiness?
  • Are you saved?
I would suggest that there is one question that acts as the mother of them all…
How do we know what’s true?
I recently finished a book called "Ten Universal Principles; A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues", by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer. I was immediately struck at how the first three principals were very similar in concept to the problem solving methodology we use where I work. I was surprised, but then again not so surprised, because in the end coherent logic is coherent logic.
In problem solving we want to know, “Why did it happen?” in regard to a certain object(s) or system(s) with a deviation or multiple deviations. Other modes of thinking also ask “why?” but go beyond objects and deviations. Disciplines like philosophy, theology and metaphysics also ask “why?” and can begin to tackle a question like “How do we know what’s true?”
Regardless of the thinking discipline, some things are universal to any thinking process. The first three principals are the “Principles of Reason” which underscore the universality of rational thought.
The Principle of Non-Contradiction (Plato & Aristotle)
Valid opinions or theories have no internal contradictions.
If I said I was a married bachelor and we were clear on the meaning of “married” and “bachelor”, then a married bachelor is an internal contradiction. There would be no need for you to investigate my life to see if my claim was true or false. It would be the same situation if I said I can draw a square shaped circle. If we are clear on the definition of these shapes, then we know that drawing a square circle is not possible. No further probing required.

An awareness of contradictions can help problem solvers to hone in on potential causes without incongruities and move towards a valid solution. Suppose you came home one dark and stormy night and noticed your front porch light was out. Since the light is on every other night, you think the storm has caused a power outage. As you walk into the house you see the digital clock on the microwave oven lit up with the correct time as usual. Unless there is some other power supply for the microwave, maintaining your theory of a power outage in the house would be contradictory.
In terms of faith & reason, you’ll find no contradictions in Catholic teaching. Once objections and over-generalizations about the faith are separated are clarified, what might appear to be a contradiction is actually not. I won’t attempt to list the many misconceptions about Catholicism here, but let’s ponder a couple of things.
The development of doctrine can create the illusion of contradiction. If the Truth does not change, why has the Catholic Church changed or added to its teaching over the centuries. Imagine a dimly lit room; you can barely make out the shape of the room and the faint outline of some furniture. If we turn up the lights, we see things more clearly, even the color of things, the paintings on the wall and all the knickknacks on the coffee table and end tables. The room did not change, we just see it better. It’s the same idea with the development of doctrine. The Truth has not changed, it is better understood.

Do the four different gospel accounts of the life and times of Jesus and his miracles contradict each other? Consider the resurrection as written in each gospel. All four have a different take with different details. Is this evidence that the resurrection is a farce? I think it’s exactly the opposite; it’s evidence of its authenticity. From my experience, whenever I hear different people describe the same complex and puzzling situation, mixed in with some emotional baggage, the gist of the problem is the same after some deliberate questioning, but many of the details are different. In fact, I would be surprised and even suspicious if each account was exactly same.
No one can be forced to accept Catholic dogmas, but they cannot be validly rejected via the principle of non-contradiction. This is not so for at least one other non-Catholic Christian dogma. Anyone who accepts the dogma of Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) runs into the wall of contradiction and most likely does not realize it. If one believes that all matters of Christian doctrine and practice should be based on the Bible alone, then one accepts a contradiction. The problem is that this doctrine is not found in the Bible (it’s unbiblical), so you need some other non-biblical source of authority to declare it. If this wasn’t clear enough, the Bible itself points us to another authority. In 1Timothy 3:15 the pillar and foundation of Truth is said to be the Church, not scripture itself.

In a way contradictions are beyond not true; they are meaningless. They cannot be, therefore they have no “being”, and therefore they are no-thing; they are nothing… and nothing is impossible with God.
Don't think about this pic too long.
It'll drive you nuts.

The Principle of Objective Evidence (Plato & Aristotle)
Non-arbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.
Data accessible only to you is subjective. Data accessible to everyone is objective. This is not to say that data only accessible to you is not true; it's just not good objective evidence. When problem solving, this concept can be embodied in something called a problem specification. Without going into all the excruciating details, a problem specification is a formal way of sorting relevant data from irrelevant data, documenting the specific facts and making them "visible" to everyone. Grade schools teach this basic principle to children via the activity of “Show & Tell”. Telling is not good enough; we must learn to “show” and show in a public way.

This may be where the materialist or atheist thinks he has the deist cornered. There is no publicly verifiable evidence for the existence of God, right? People always “tell” and never “show”. Even if we exclude evidence via the historical method, witnesses of events past and present and those today who witness with their very lives, there are still many proofs for the existence of what Catholics would call God; they are also publicly verifiable and the thinking is made “visible”. A good and rather lengthy five-step proof can be found in another book by Fr. Spitzer called "New Proofs for the Existence of God". The beginning of the proof can be found at THIS LINK. The reality of these proofs does not mean that all who read and understand them will have faith in God, but they are publicly verifiable evidence nonetheless.

As a side note to any Christian or Deist, if you were to say “God told me ABC” or “The Holy Spirit taught me XYZ”, it may be perfectly true, but it is not good objective evidence since it is data only accessible to you.

By the way, if you ever wondered why it takes the Catholic Church so long to declare a saint a saint, it is because they are sorting relevant data from irrelevant day, looking for publicly verifiable evidence and making the thinking “visible”. These things take time.

The Principle of Complete Explanation (Socrates, Plato & Aristotle)
The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.
When a number of possible causes of a problem have been identified, problem solvers are challenged to identify the best opinion or theory as the most probable cause by looking at any assumptions that have been made and documented. The most probable cause will have the fewest number of assumptions, the most reasonable assumptions and the overall simplest assumptions.

The world view of materialism does not explain the most important “data” found in the human condition. Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Morality, Love, Justice, Purpose, etc. cannot be reduced down to only physical elements of matter and energy if they are to have any meaning. Everything about life cannot be explained by merely seeking biological opportunities or avoiding biological dangers without some serious gaps. To avoid these data gaps some will simply wave the evolutionary magic wand. For example, how can evolution explain homosexuality in terms of a species surviving and reproducing? I was once told that having a certain homosexual percentage in the population prevents overbreeding, and thus helps the species as a whole. So there you have it, and how can anyone argue with such a firm wave of the evolutionary magic wand.
Consider too the data from design. No matter how much evidence of purposeful design is found in our finely tuned universe and planet, the data is explained away by “dumb luck”. Additionally, the origins of life cannot be explained by the survival of the fittest, because in beginning there was nothing alive to survive to be the fittest. The random jostling of matter and energy will have to do as the explanation. Chance is used to explain away any data which points to deliberate design, but how well does randomness really explain all the data as compared to an intelligent cause?

Non-Catholic Christians are in the unenviable situation of trying to explain a lack of Christian data from shortly after the Book of Acts was written to around the time of the Protestant Reformation; about 1,500 years. Did the Holy Spirit abandon the Church for 1,500 years and then finally reemerge in the hearts of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others to guide them to all Truth? If so, the reformers and their descendants would surely agree on doctrine, and all non-Catholic Christians would follow their teachings today with no further divisions needed, right?

Or perhaps the real Church went underground to hide from the oppressive Catholic Church and was finally able to resurface after 1,500 years. If we are to follow the previous principle of reason, we should ask, “Where is the publicly verifiable evidence for the existence of this 1,500 year underground church?” What if we claimed that the Church Christ founded has had a lot of problems over the centuries, but has never stopped being the one universal and apostolic Church on earth and it is called the Catholic Church today? Which explanation of Christian historical data has the fewest number of assumptions, the most reasonable assumptions and the overall simplest assumptions?
In his book, Fr. Spitzer recounts how, when he taught philosophy to university students, he would ask, “Are all opinions equally valid?” Most students would answer yes, in the spirit of fairness and equality. Then Fr. Spitzer would use principles, like the three listed above, to demonstrate how some opinions are more valid than others. Catholicism is an all-encompassing worldview that can be examined by using classic, rational thought, and it all stands to reason. If God is the source of reason, then the reality of God and his Church will not violate the basic principles of reason.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Unconquerable Weakness

St Paul makes much of weakness.

In 1 Cor 1:25 he makes the famous statement "the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." This verse comes at the end of a short section on how the wisdom of God seems to be foolishness to men.

Again, in 2 Cor 16-29, St Paul enumerates the times when he was persecuted, beaten, and suffered at the hands of men and in natural hardships. In this he explains that these show his weakness. He does not fight them but endures them. What is extraordinary is that he then boasts of his weakness (cf v.30).

Finally he ties this to Christ in 2 Cor 13:4, who "was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God."

There is a paradoxical relationship between strength and weakness in St Paul's letters. At first glance, it seems as if it were a simple comparison between the human and the divine.  The divine is just a bigger version of the human.  Hence the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man. So then in Paul's list of hardships, he is weak, The list of hardships continue to demonstrate this weakness, but why would he then boast of them? Christ dies in weakness?  Where is the power of God in that?

One may ask if a Christian should simply expect no earthly rescue by God. It's just that God is really powerful and we are not. Christians are not allowed to fight back so we just have to suck it up and take it. Even Jesus himself had to simply let himself be killed.

I will suggest that this weakness is not something inflicted upon Paul but an impenetrable shield for his defense. The reason speaks to how the devil works. To quote Tolkien, "the Shadow can only mock, it cannot make." Evil corrupts. All sin is a corruption of something good. Worldly power, therefore, is a handle by which the devil can grasp to use against us.

What then is our protection against this corruption?  Weakness. Weakness is the only thing that evil cannot corrupt. It has nothing to grasp us by. This weakness is related to kenosis, the self-emptying St Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:7.  Self-emptying means ridding ourselves of pride, it means a true humility, a realization that to God alone belongs the victory, even when furthered by our own efforts. Most importantly, it is a radical dependence upon God and his providence.

This radical dependence appears from the outside to be weakness, but upon it we can safely rely for invincible protection.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Faith & Reason Quote of the Day

“There are some who come to him through their minds, through study, and through considering the problems of today, suffering above all. We should be ready to discuss their thoughts with them, not in order to score points against them in argument, but to help them clarify their own ideas, to form their own conclusions – this, with the gentleness of Christ, that they like the disciples on the road, may feel their hearts burning within them as the mystery of the Redemption begins to shine in their minds.”
– Caryll Houselander

Who are the "some" mentioned in the opening sentence? I think it's anyone who is sincerely and sanely searching for the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. An honest seeker will ask opened ended questions or raise objections in an open ended way.

As a cue, one looking to gather new information may ask open questions that mostly start with "What, Where, When How, Who, Why..." Those who wish to put you and your faith on trial may be more likely to ask closed questions, which are commonly used to help confirm things that one already suspects, and begin with "Do, Have, Will, Can, Are, Is..."

Consider the statement: "Purple fish eat candy."


If one is predisposed against you, your way of thinking and your worldview, you may hear:
- Are you serious?
- Have you ever seen purple fish eating candy?
- Can fish really sit around eating candy bars and licking lollipops?
- Do you see how this is only a delusional fairytale?

If one is sincerely trying to understand, you may hear:
- What do you mean?
- How can fish eat candy?
- What kind of fish?
- What kind of candy?

I don't really know if purple fish eat candy. I suppose it's possible that some kind of tropical fish, in some shade of purple, might like to eat tiny bits of candy or any sugary substance, but the point is...

Understanding must first begin with a heartfelt attempt to believe; you must first know what the idea would mean if it were actually true. This is the impetus of Faith through Reason.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What is Catholic Familyland?

Just got back from Catholic Familyland and wanted to help spread the word about this holy place.

I'm outta here...
A Catholic family planning a summer vacation may wonder where to go to Mass or what shrine they could visit while gone. What if your whole family vacation was something spiritual? What if you could vacation in a kingdom of sorts, but not a certain Magic Kingdom that may come to mind?

It’s been said that a main theme of all the teachings of Jesus is the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is where the King is. Jesus came to earth to touch us, heal us and save us. The Church continues his work today in his Kingdom on earth, through graces and the sacramental life.

But what might the loyal subjects in the Kingdom be like or act like? I suspect they would be exactly like what you’d find at a Holy Family Fest at Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, OH, which is part of the Apostolate for Family Consecration. A family “camping” vacation with swimming, hiking, horseback riding and much more, but also inclusive with:
  • Mass available each morning in a huge auditorium with jumbo-tron screens no less!
Holy Mass

  • Inspiring and encouraging talks by professional speakers after Mass for adults while the kids are out doing  age appropriate activities.
  • Rosary every evening at 7pm.
  • Everything stops at 3pm for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Those swimming at the pool need to stop and sit on the edge. Even the St. John the Baptist water slide shuts down!
St. John the Baptist Water Slide

  • Outdoor confessions available all afternoon everyday at Holy Family Park. Several priests sit under shady umbrellas hearing confessions for hours.
Sacrament of Reconciliation

  • Eucharist adoration made regularly available.

The Apostolate is dedicated to the renewal of the Church and the world through the renewal of the family. It’s a fruit of the apparitions at Fatima in 1917 and the Marian spirituality of Saint John Paul II with the goal of consecrating as many families as possible to Jesus, through Mary, in union with St. Joseph.
They have an audacious message of hope that is a formula for world peace. I share my notes from this “Message of Hope” in one of the blog tabs above which elaborates about a specific problem and specific solution based on the message of Fatima.

My youngest at Holy Family Park as we were heading to the 7pm outdoor Rosary.
A rainbow appears right on cue.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Welcome to The New "Non-Normative"

The proper definition of freedom is not being able to do what we want, but being able to do what we ought. This freedom to do what we ought relates to our fundamental human rights which relates to our fundamental human needs and tendencies. A reader sent me THIS LINK to a very interesting interview with a priest named Fr. Marcel Guarnizo who connects these ideas in terms of same-sex attraction and marriage rights and since thinking means connecting things it’s certainly worth a closer look.

Humans all have natural tendencies which stem from our desire for self-preservation. We have natural tendencies toward food, drink, shelter, sleep, etc. If anyone tries to take these things from us or prevent us from getting them, they are violating some of our most basic natural human rights. Even the freedom of speech comes from our natural tendency to communicate; freedom of religion comes from our natural tendency to worship or to connect with something transcendent.

Beyond self-preservation of the individual, humans also have a natural tendency toward procreation. Our sexual tendencies relate to the preservation of the species and also self-preservation in terms of passing on our traits and culture to our children. This is why all humans have the right to reproduce and why marriage rights find their rational basis in the context of procreation.
Any natural human tendency can manifest itself in non-normative ways in terms of excess, deficiency or defect. In the case of the natural tendency toward food we have non-normative excesses like bulimia and non-normative deficiencies like anorexia. In the case of sleep there is narcolepsy and insomnia. Paranoia is a non-normative state that relates to our natural tendency for self-preservation in a disproportionate way. Being suicidal would be another non-normative state working against self-preservation. The same is true for our sexuality. Nymphomania would be a non-normative excess of sexual tendency and impotency would be a deficiency. Sexual tendencies toward children, close relatives, other species (animals) or members of the same sex are also non-normative as they do not foster self-preservation in terms of the preservation of the species.

How can we objectively say a tendency is non-normative? It’s not necessarily a discussion of moral vs. immoral. Sometimes it’s just about data. If you were late to work only 4% of the time, would it be fair to describe you as “normally” late to work based on the data? If you were late to work 96% of the time, would it be fair to describe you as “normally” on time? The percentage of those who claim to have same-sex attraction in the U.S. is less than 4% (interview link above sourced the 2013 National Heath Study). This makes it objectively and statistically correct to say same-sex attraction is a “non-normative” tendency without any discussion of the inherent dignity or morality of the individual.
Basic human rights and thus our laws are based on universal and normative human tendencies. With same-sex marriage we have a situation where we have made universal legislation based on a non-normative tendency. This is not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible. In trying to do justice we erode a fundamental rule of law; making it biographical or relating to a special interest.

Other than same-sex attraction, we never celebrate non-normative human tendencies. There are no pride parades for anorexia. But we should be concerned and ask “Why?” We should seek the root cause or causes instead of just telling people to embrace it and demonizing those who question it. Truth is the foundation of compassion and mercy. Any mercy without truth is not merciful; in fact it is quite the contrary. Unless we recover our intellect, we will not be able to recover our civilization.

The interview mentions nations like Croatia, Slovakia and Macedonia recently amending their constitutions to protect marriage as being between a man and a woman. Could it be that these nations oppressed by communism for decades understand and appreciate basic human rights and justice more than we do?

I want YOU to recover your intellect!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Two Catholic Men and an Interview

The Two Catholic Men were recently interviewed by Fr. Robert Barron!!!

Just to avoid any confusion, the "Fr." abbreviation stands for "Friend'. This friend of ours is not the famous apologist Fr. Robert Barron (wouldn't that be a hoot), but Robert Barron, the editor of the Joliet Cursillo Newsletter located in the dioceses of Joliet, IL.
  • Learn about the mysterious origins of Two Catholic Men and a Blog
  • Find out what makes us tick
  • See a goofy photo of us trying to pose like this...

I love how it starts on the cover...
"You’ve seen those ubiquitous moving vans, ‘Two Men and a Truck’, the name of the company being its marketing slogan as well as implying its proposition - a low cost move providing you all you really need to get yourself from here to there. In much the same way, two Catholic men, Ben and Joe, through their blog are helping many get from faith to reason and back and see the ways that science and logic actually make the case for God’s existence and the teachings of his pilgrim Church on earth."

Read the rest HERE starting on page 8.
You know you want to...Don't pretend like you don't want to.

By the way, Cursillo is a movement within the Catholic Church that helps the essential realities of a Christian to come to life. Cursillo refers to a short course or study in Christianity, and for me it's all about those vital things Christians forget or just don’t realize.