Monday, September 9, 2013

The Assumption Gap (con't)

The last post on this blog spoke of assumption gaps and used some clever riddles to show how we naturally assume things in our thinking process. Whether consciously or subconsciously, once you make an assumption, the gap between what you think and reality can get further and further apart. This applies to matters of faith as much as anything else. Here are some examples from years ago in my own faith journey that are not uncommon. See if any of these ring a bell.

Ø  Who made God? God’s existence would itself require an explanation, just as the existence of the universe or anything else does.

This kind of thinking could lead one to atheism since believers seem to be contradicting themselves. The flawed assumption is that God is a contingent being just like any other being in the universe (one thing among many). Metaphysics, however, will divide reality into two parts; conditioned reality and unconditioned reality. There are formal logic proofs that show how there must be one unique unconditioned reality (one thing that requires nothing else for its own existence). Additionally, this unconditioned reality must be completely unrestricted, intelligent, loving and must sustain the existence of everything else. We call this reality “God”. The proofs are too much to get into here, but I highly recommend THIS BOOK if you have the intellectual stamina.

Since this unconditioned reality would not be contingent upon time, the word “made” in the question “Who made God?” makes no sense. The word “made” is past tense which implies a beginning point, which implies time. So what can we say with our limited human language that does make some sense? God just IS. God hinted at this long before any metaphysicist did; I am that I am (Exodus 3:14).

Ø  What’s the deal with original sin? Adam & Eve disobeyed, not me. I didn’t do anything, especially as a new born baby, so why should I have deal with original sin. It’s not fair!
The assumption here is that we are entitled to salvation. We have a right to the gift of grace and eternal life with God. The following analogy helped me tremendously.

Imagine your poor father befriended a billionaire before you were born. They were such good friends that the billionaire made your dad heir to his fortune. One day your father betrayed the billionaire, so he removed him from his will, leaving him in his poverty. Years later your father met your mother and you were born. Eventually, you learned the story of friendship and betrayal between the billionaire and your father. You realize that you would have been next in line for the fortune if your father would have remained a faithful friend, so you say, “My father betrayed him, not me. I didn't do anything, so why should I have to deal with poverty. It’s not fair! The fortune should still go to me”

The reality is that you never had a claim to the fortune in the first place.

Ø  Next-up is a common and usually subconscious assumption well illustrated by St. Augustine in his early years when he asked, “From whence came evil?” Catholics teach that God is ALL good and ALL things come from God, so this begs the question, where did evil come from? How could evil come into being at all?

St. Augstine
The incorrect assumption is that evil has “being”. Evil actually has no substance or being, it is just the privation of good. Think of physical darkness; it has no “being”. Darkness is merely the absence of light. It doesn’t come from anywhere or find its source in anything; it is merely the lack of something. No one can bring darkness; one can only take away light. Similarly, no one can bring evil; one can only take away what is good.

Ø  When I first heard the titles of “Christ the King” and Mary “Queen of Heaven”, I thought to myself, “Did Jesus and Mary get married and now they rule as king & queen of heaven?” 

The flawed assumption here is that a king and a queen are always husband and wife. In the ancient kingdom of Israel, the queen was always the mother of the king (not the wife or wives) and part of her role was to bring petitions to the king (1 Kings 2:13-21).
If we accept the premises that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament, the ancient kingdom of Israel foreshadows the new kingdom of Christ, and the King of Israel foreshadows Christ the King, then it makes sense to say Mary is the Queen of Heaven. In fact, it would be strange if it were otherwise.

Ø  Here is one on Papal infallibility. How incredibly arrogant (or stupid) for an organization to declare their leader “infallible”. One would be wise to be suspicious of such a thing.

One common elementary blunder here is assuming that infallible means impeccable. To be impeccable means to be without sin, error or fault and no Pope fits the bill for this. It’s not about being perfect. In fact, it’s really not about “being” at all. It’s about teaching, teaching in the context of proper authority (ex-cathedra) on matters of faith and morals.

Catholics believe that God’s “decision point” on earth would not lead us astray. Think about it; if there really is a God, and he really cares about us, He would make sure we have a way to know what is true in terms of what to believe and how to behave (faith & morals). He would not leave us alone with our imperfect intuition and flawed interpretations of His will. If infallibility were rejected, we’d end up with teachings as numerous as they are wrong. Could you even imagine?

Perception is NOT reality; perception informs our response to reality. Since we seldom see things as they truly are, we fill-in the gaps with assumptions, the most harmful of which can be the subconscious ones. Even if we’ve got something basically right, we only see a small portion of its totality. The important thing is seeing what needs to be seen, and God always provides what is needed. Catholicism is given to everyone as a universal way of seeing; a way of seeing by which we can best respond to the world around us.
You're kinda lost without it...


  1. Congratulations. You have ruined my free time. As a teacher of Christian Apologetics, I work in that intersection between Faith and Reason. The discovery of your blog must needs now consume every free moment I have soaking up your postings.

    Keep up the good work!!

  2. "The assumption here is that we are entitled to salvation. We have a right to the gift of grace and eternal life with God."

    Leaving behind the strawman argument about original sin, the assumption certainly is not that we assume that we are entitled to salvation. The question is "why is condemnation the default position for a loving God?" If we are created in God's image, and at our creation God saw that we are good, why does the Church teach that all people are tainted with a mortal sin not of our own making, and we will be condemned to eternal conscious torture if we don't actively believe?

    One possible explanation is that fear and intimidation are methods of control that the Church uses to convince people to profess faith and participate in Church activities. That's a super-cynical position, but the concept of Hell itself seems super-cynical too.

    1. A lot to unpack here if you want get into all this theology.
      “why does the Church teach …… we will be condemned to eternal conscious torture if we don't actively believe?”

      Do you mean the Catholic Church? What is your source for this information?

      To be clear, God does not condemn anyone to Hell. We condemn ourselves. Here is a thought from Fr. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) when he was a theology professor in the 60”s:

      “Man cannot stand alone; he needs closeness; he needs unity. If man (and this is the true nature of sin) refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to “be like God”, standing alone on his own two feet, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death. Scripture about the connection between sin and death is to be understood from this angle.”

      “If a state of isolation were to arise that was so deep that no “You” could reach into it anymore, then we should have a total and terrifying loneliness; this is what theology calls “Hell”, a loneliness which is as inescapable as it is dreadful.”

  3. I did see passages that affirm what you are saying, but here is one source of information on hell as eternal torture...

    The Church professes her faith in the Athanasian Creed: "They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire" (Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., 1908, n.40). The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. in the profession of faith made in the Second Council of Lyons (Denx., n. 464) and in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence (Denz., N. 693): "the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments" (poenis disparibus).

    and this article goes on to say...

    The Holy Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell. The torments of the damned shall last forever and ever (Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10). They are everlasting just as are the joys of heaven (Matthew 25:46). Of Judas Christ says: "it were better for him, if that man had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). But this would not have been true if Judas was ever to be released from hell and admitted to eternal happiness. Again, God says of the damned: "Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched" (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47). The fire of hell is repeatedly called eternal and unquenchable. The wrath of God abideth on the damned (John 3:36); they are vessels of Divine wrath (Romans 9:22); they shall not possess the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21), etc. The objections adduced from Scripture against this doctrine are so meaningless that they are not worth while discussing in detail. The teaching of the fathers is not less clear and decisive (cf. Patavius, "De Angelis", III, viii). We merely call to mind the testimony of the martyrs who often declared that they were glad to suffer pain of brief duration in order to escape eternal torments; e.g. "Martyrium Polycarpi", c. ii (cf. Atzberger, "Geschichte", II, 612 sqq.).

    1. Think of the torcher like this:
      Our soul needs God like our body needs food. Starving to death is a torturous process from what I understand, but the pain will end with physical death. The soul separated from God is tortured like the body without food, but the soul does not die like the body. It will remain in an immutable state of agony.

      If we reject God, he will give us what we want. He will give us separation. Also, if one spends his entire life rejecting God, it is not reasonable to assume acceptance will come at the very end. God will grant the separation; he will not force himself on anyone.

  4. While I understand what you are saying - GOD doesnt cause the unbeliever's suffering - they bring it on themselves. But it still has the odor of an abusive husband standing over his broken, bleeding wife and saying "Look at what you made me DO!!!!"

    A loving husband doesnt inflict pain and suffering on his wife. Why does God?

    1. Actually I don’t think you understand what I’m saying given the wife beating analogy you used. The suffering from the separation from God is the natural consequence of rejecting God, rejecting what the soul is made for, rejecting what the soul needs. Like starvation is a natural consequence of rejecting food. God will let you reject Him if that is what you really want.

    2. It is a hard teaching, true. While Christians are accused of creating a religion that makes them feel better, you have chosen a great set of verses that completely obliterates that premise. How exactly does this make ANYONE feel better? I think I'd make up something easier.

      What's funny is that people who do not believe in Hell have actually created a new religion by introducing a third (imaginary) state. They opt out. No Heaven, no Hell, just nothingness, or maybe a "nice god," created in their image.

      Anyway, back to your comments...
      Is it unloving for a parent to ground a child for having a party at the house without permission? Why would a loving parent inflict pain or discomfort on a child? Obviously to correct their behavior. Why would a parent threaten punishment PRIOR TO the bad action? To discourage such behavior. Now what's a parent to do when the child KNOWS the punishment and does it anyway? Either the parent is weak or unjust or the parent is mean and legalistic. You have set yourself in the place of judge over that parent. Do you have insight into that parent/child relationship? Nope. Do you have all the details of the conversations and arguments or of how much the child understands or fails to understand the consequences? Nope.

      So how can one judge in any individual case without all those details that ONLY God has?

      Also, I reject the implication that there is no place for punishment between those who love one another. There is a connection between love and punishment. It is that ONLY someone who loves would care enough to correct self-destructive behavior.

      If one accepts the premise that God knows what is self-destructive AND does not want it, THEN it makes sense that seeking to stop the behavior by placing rules to prevent it both gives us the chance to change AND allows us to keep our free will. A direct consequence of this is the possibility of separation of the two persons. Perhaps eternal.

      If we reject the rules which should help us to become close to God, we move further from God. Once we die we live where we are trying to go: close or far.

      If our souls suffer torment by being far from God (as in the verses you quote) then why are you surprised? We are warned.

  5. "Is it unloving for a parent to ground a child for having a party at the house without permission?"
    Of course, there is a huge difference between grounding a child and eternal conscious torment. And I stand by the phrase "eternal conscious torture" which you objected to earlier. In your words "The soul separated from God is tortured like the body without food, but the soul does not die like the body. It will remain in an immutable state of agony."

    For one thing, the grounding is happening NOW, proximate to the behavior you are correcting. The pain of the afterlife for the unbeliever is not for correction, it is punishment plan and simple, because once the unbeliever is dead, its too late. And it is neverending, rather than with a set time limit after which the punishment ceases, even if the child has future limitations imposed on his behavior.

    "Also, I reject the implication that there is no place for punishment between those who love one another."
    For punishment? My example was a husband and wife. Are you really suggesting there is a place for punishment between a husband and wife? I really want you to provide an example of that.
    "Also, I reject the implication that there is no place for punishment between those who love one another."

    1. “And it is neverending, rather than with a set time limit after which the punishment ceases,...”

      Heaven & Hell get into the idea of immutability. Spiritual reality is outside of time. A departed soul with God (or in heaven) is always with God (no time = no change). A departed soul without God (or in Hell) is always without God (no time = no change). This impossible for us to completely understand because our experience in physical reality is always in and around time.

    2. Analogies are good because that are alike, not equal to. See my "Analogies" post.

      One thing to notice is that I am referring to the punishments on earth. These are temporal and temporary. They are designed to change the course of a person.

      Secondly, I do not put the relationship of a man and a woman on par with the relationship between a creator and the creature. They are even MORE different than a married couple is to a parent and child. However there is indeed a place for punishment for seriously bad behavior between a married couple. If one spouse is unfaithful, a withdrawal of the other spouse (in a separation for example) can be very painful to the first spouse. It actually depends on how much the first spouse cares. Is this "mean" on the part of the other spouse? It depends on how much one believes that a spouse "deserves" the other. If one is "owed" the other then it seems unfair. However no one deserves another person. Nor does anyone deserve heaven. Heaven is a free gift.

      Do you equate "eternal conscious torture" with a torturer? Why? A drug addict is consciously tortured when in withdrawal. Where is the torturer? A withdrawal from God after learning what it is like in the presence of God is torture to a soul. This is what is referred to.

  6. So what is the experience of a soul after the death of the body? All of our experiences include a sense of duration. If there is no time and no change, it doesnt seem like there would be perception. Which sort of implies that there would be no difference between Heaven and Hell.

  7. I'm afraid I disagree with the example of punishment for marital infidelity. It would be an immature response for the victim to want to "punish" the unfaithful. Examples would include a "getting even" affair, or wanting to beat up (or even kill) the offender - none of which is truly helpful. A more mature response would be to decide whether the victim could trust the unfaithful, and if there is no trust, to separate from that person - not to punish them, but for your own mental health.

    I do understand your analogy of an addict in withdrawl - interesting and helpful. I guess there are two things I am hitching on in your explanations:
    1. An overall tendency in this discussion is to make the "process" seem passive on God's part. He doesnt create a physical or spiritual "place" of torment, but rather the person chooses to accept God or not, and therefore experiences God or not after death. OK, free will - I get that. But this also has a flavor of the passive watchmaker who creates the world and then steps back and lets it all happen after that. That was apparently not the experience of the faithful in past times. Why is it our experience now?
    2. If Heaven is a state of being With God, and Hell is a state of being Without God - what is the nature of this state of being? What exists, on any level, without the presence of God? It seems (to me) that God would have to Do Something to create or arrange even a state of being in which He Is Not - and what is the difference between that and the Hell of earlier Church tradition?

    1. I respect that you disagree with the example. You are disagreeing with the intentional part of that separation. However that action is "punitive" in a corrective or remedial sense. It is not at all immature in that it is meant to help the other spouse determine what he/she values. If "punishment" is too tough a word, use remedial action instead. It conveys the idea also. Also, as I have pointed out, these actions between peers (husband and wife) is FUNDAMENTALLY different than between parent/child or creator/creation and the role of punishment is correspondingly different due to the type of relationship.

      Your two questions are very astute! I will give you my best understanding.

      The deistic watchmaker is baggage that I reject. God is active but like a parent of grown children whom he has taught and must step back in order to give them their freedom to screw up if that's what they choose. (Romans 1:24-25, Acts 7:42)

      Secondly, there is much speculation about this state of Hell. Past tradition made this state as painful and full of suffering as possible. Christ likened it to the garbage dump in Jerusalem (Gehenna) which caught fire and burned perpetually (figuratively of course). St Alphonsus says "Hell is pandemonium, disorder and outrageously bitter and hateful because of the absence of divine love. Oh, there is love there but it's self-love, angry-love and disrespectful loathing for oneself and all who share in utter misery, pain, torture, resentment and despair." Notice the absence of love here. God is love. I personally believe that the pain of remorse is actually more emphasized nowadays. I have heard Hell described as "realizing the pain that I myself have done to others from their point of view." This would also correspond to the doctrine as a punishment (non-remedial) and to the pain of Hell corresponding to the evil done during life.

      I hope this helps and thank you for your insightful thoughts!

    2. One note here:
      “What exists, on any level, without the presence of God?”
      Technically, this is correct. God holds everything in existence (including a soul in Hell), so this implies a presence of some kind. Technically, it is the presence of God without any of God’s Grace that creates the suffering of Hell.

    3. But still, how do you separate the Presence of God from God's Grace? "All things are possible with God" would be a copout. That statement "it is the presence of God without any of God’s Grace that creates the suffering of Hell" assumes that there are elements of God that are not Love, because the (self) condemned would be in the presence of God but not experience his Love.

      And may I say I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion and I appreciate the time you are taking to respond.

    4. Raymond,

      Another excellent question! I believe that it is a "felt presence" that makes the difference. Bl. Mother Teresa, St. John of the Cross and other mystics describe a "dark night of the soul" where God feels totally absent in their lives. This is quite difficult for them and it produces a stronger yearning and longing for Him in their souls and provides them with an opportunity to either "cast off into the dark abyss" toward God or cling to the ultimately unsatisfying comforts of the flesh. This is its purpose. Agape Love is a decision.

      This longing is truly satisfied only in the "felt" Presence of God. In Hell, this natural longing is never satisfied (as with an addict in withdrawal) because they never feel that Presence.

      Thanks for being part of the dialogue!

    5. Ray,
      I think it is easier to understand in terms of “presence” vs. “union”. Even in earthy human relationships you can have the presence of a person with no union, meaning something is separating the two like “bad blood”.

      If you like these types of discussion I recommend a site called Strange Notions where Catholics and atheists/agnostics dialog civilly.

  8. I have just found your blog! Why can't we have discussions like this at sermons in our masses? I think there are so many out in the pews every Sunday who are secretly thinking to themselves "this is a load of ancient crap, there's no reason for me to believe any of this." We could at least show them that centuries of reasonable thought have gone into the teachings of this church.

    I am digressing already. The point of this comment was to expand on the discussion over this post, which was excellently clear and fascinating. It seems to me that some things got glossed over in the discussion that I want to know more about:

    1. We have left aside the idea that reality is unending or even circular, having no point of origin and therefore no cause. We know that such systems are a mathematical possibility, so we must endeavor to explain why they cannot be a reality or else accept the possibility that they are how our reality works.

    2. As a Catholic, I was under the impression that the pope as a person is not infallible; it only that he is capable of teaching infallibly when he explicitly teaches "ex cathedra," and that this method of addressing the Church is rare in the extreme (but unerringly true when used).

    3. As we discuss these assumption gaps that lead us astray in reasoning, it strikes me that little has been made of the fact that god does not make himself plain to us through obvious miracle or scientifically testable proof; that he requires faith. This is inviting us to sin, IF it is a sin to assume wrongly. Is it a sin to assume or believe wrongly?

    4. There have been, and still are, people who have never heard the Word of God as expressed to Catholics by Jesus. It is simply not true, as you have said, that "Catholicism is given to everyone as a universal way of seeing." There have been many who never had the opportunity to be in our faith. How shall we address this, our answer depending of course on how we answer the question I pose in #3?

    1. Hi Adam! Welcome! How did you find the blog (just curious)?

      First, I doubt there are many who go to Mass and think “"this is a load of crap”. Why would they be there? That said, I do wish there was more “faith & reason” talk at Mass, but I find that they’re many that are not so interested in the logic part. It seems people are more interested in “what does this mean in my life”.

      Your 3rd point is intriguing and addressed a bit in the new post (not by reason alone). I do think a leap of faith is required at some point. Logic is not enough. Remember too, the Church does not teach that anyone ignorant of the gospel message is necessarily in sin or going to hell. Also, is giving us free will inviting us to sin too? I don’t see it that way.

      For your 4th point, perhaps it is more accurate to say "Catholicism is intended for everyone as a universal way of seeing." Of course, part of the new evangelization is for informed catholic laypeople to do everything they can to spread “The Word”, so it can be "given".