Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Maniac

G.K. Chesterton would have been 140 years old on May 29. Although he passed on a bit short of that mark (June 14, 1936), even the most resolute atheist would admit that he lives on through all his writings. There are quite a few things lurking in this blog inspired by Chesterton. Sadly, I’ve only read one of his books from cover to cover (so far), but it’s a classic; it’s Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy means “right teaching”, which is the opposite of what we have today where we act as if there is no “right” and no “teaching”, but we do find plenty of heresy or heterodoxy, which means “other teaching”. Chapter II of Orthodoxy is entitled The Maniac and it begins with a popular other teaching we often hear today. It’s the individualistic philosophy that a person will get along fine in life if he just believes in himself. There is nothing wrong with self-confidence, but could we not write “He Believed in Himself” over the grave of every famous tyrant in history? Could we not find criminals, oppressors and terrorists today who believe in themselves? Could we not find people in insane asylums who believe in themselves?

Anyone can believe in himself, and in a culture that denies objective truth all opinions become equally valid, even the opinion of a maniac. In this environment basic terms cannot be defined because the definitions are relative, and having well defined terms is a first step in logic. So reasoning with a maniac about what “believe in yourself” really means can be the catalyst for an endless game of “point-counterpoint”.

“A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason”
 – G.K. Chesterton
  • If you have children you may be familiar with “point-counterpoint”. Once, my son was bothering my oldest daughter by touching her. I said, “Stop touching her.” He said, “I did not touch her.” I replied, “I just saw you!” He said, “I touched her shirt, not her.” Of course, my daughter just happened to be wearing the shirt he was touching. From here we could have gotten into an insane discussion (or demonstration) about what would constitute touching someone, but I wasn’t in the mood for games.
  • This need not be only a game for children. I’m reminded of the trouble former President Bill Clinton got into in the late 90’s with a certain female intern which caused him to say, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
  • One might think it easy to be clear about such simple words as “touching” and “is”, but maniacs can be great reasoners. Imagine someone suffering from paranoia says to you, “Everyone wants to kill me.” You respond, “I don’t want to kill you." The person answers, “Of course you would say that to keep your evil plan a secret.” There is logic there. The explanation covers the facts.

“If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment.”
G.K. Chesterton
The above examples may seem humorous, but the consequences are no laughing matter when the maniac engages the very basics of life, family and what it means to be human. When does human life begin? Both science and faith point to the moment of conception, but the maniac will look elsewhere. What is marriage? Whatever we want it to be? If it can mean anything, then it means nothing, so we demand some kind of definition via laws and definitions always require limits. How do we know if the limits are right or wrong? Cultural consensus becomes the infallible guarantee that all is well with whatever opinion the majority has. The underlying problem is that we demand laws, limits and morals without God. It’s like demanding electricity and then denying the existence of a generator.
A clever analogy between the sun and the moon was given at the end of the chapter to compare reason grounded in God (orthodoxy) vs. reason grounded in man (heterodoxy). God is our ultimate source of reason just like the sun is our ultimate source of energy. The sun provides both light and heat, but it is impossible to look at it directly. We call its shape round, but as we wince at it and try to trace out its exact shape with our eyes, we can’t do it. It’s too much for us. It’s both shining and shapeless. Like a mystery, we can’t define it perfectly.
Whatever light we receive from the moon is secondary light that ultimately comes from the sun, although one might think at first glance that moonlight has nothing to do with sunlight. The moon reflects light off of a dead world and gives no warmth, but at the same time the moon is quite reasonable. Its circular shape is clear and unmistakable.
“The moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”
– G.K. Chesterton
So how can one finally reason with the maniac? Other than presenting orthodoxy and insisting upon well-defined terms and premises (both stated & assumed), I really don’t know. At times it seems to be more about casting out demons than debating philosophies and facts. As far as a final solution, I’ll need to think about it and get back to you.

I’ll just sit here until I figure all this out.


Friday, May 16, 2014

What's in 100,000 Digital Touches?

We finally reached 100,000 hits or “digital touches” as we like to say. Of course, some blogs may do this in one day for all we know, and some hits are spam or just the two of us clicking around the blog. So what’s the big deal?

Well, I would think 100,000 hits represent at least a few hundred different people reading about Catholic Faith & Reason and that’s no small thing. Regardless of the real numbers, this blog has always been a place where two or more are gathered, so thanks for caring and thanks for sharing.

Here’s a little more about us:
The Two Catholic Men are fellow parishioners, neighbors and good friends like this…

We are studious like this…

Loyal to the Church like this…

We “assist” misguided blog commenters like this…
Joe & Ben vs. random "wrong-person"
Sometimes stubborn like this…

Anti-Catholics find us curiously disturbing like this…

That’s OK; we find them curiously disturbing like this…

…yet we maintain a joyful worldview like this...

Last, but certainly not least, we’re grateful to God like this…
Thanks for visiting!!!

Monday, May 5, 2014

What do you mean by...?

One of the first steps of a problem solving process is to be clear on meaning. If one were to say X is not working right or Y is acting funny, the specific meaning of “not working right” or “acting funny” must be separated and clarified. We separate to see if there is actually more than one issue being lumped together as if it were one, and we clarify to get the most specific meaning possible.

This requires a dynamic back and forth communication between the information source (the person with the problem) and the information gatherer (problem solver). A one-time static communication almost never works out well. This kind of thing was demonstrated very well by apologist Patrick Madrid in a Lighthouse Catholic Media CD using what appears to be a very straight forward and simple sentence. Consider the statement, “I didn’t say you stole the money.” It seems clear enough. What could possibly be misinterpreted about it?

  • Suppose we put the emphasis on the word “I” so we have “I didn’t say you stole the money”. This could mean that I am not accusing you, but someone else is.
  • Now put the emphasis on the word “you” and we have “I didn’t say YOU stole the money”. This could mean that I am not saying you did it, but I am saying someone else did.
  • Put the emphasis on the word “stole” and we have “I didn’t say you STOLE the money”. This could mean that I am not saying you stole it, but I am saying you did something else with it, like wasted it.
  • Put the emphasis on the word “money” and we have “I didn’t say you stole the MONEY”. This could mean that I am not saying you stole money, but I am saying you stole something else.
If you were not present to hear the emphasis on any particular word or to ask some clarifying questions, the true meaning of the statement would be lost. The same can be true of the statements found in the Bible. How do we know we have it right when we can’t go back in time and ask the author, “What do you mean by…?”

Consider a simple word like “believe” in the famous verse… “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). It goes on in verse 18… “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” A verse from today's gospel is not as famous, but just as relevant.Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’” (John 6:29).

So what does it mean to believe? It would seem that we need to be very clear about the precise meaning of this word. Is it just an intellectual or factual belief, like believing the earth is round or believing that two and two make four? James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” So if the demons can believe, should we believe the same way they do?
Other verses seem to clearly link our belief to what we do, like in James 2:20-26. These verses link what Abraham did, in offering up his son, to his belief in God (see also Romans 4:3 & Gal 3:6)

Sometimes it is helpful to think of opposites when trying to understand something. If we need to better understand the color white, it helps to study the color black. If we find out that black is the absence of visible light, it helps us to understand how white contains all the wavelengths of visible light at equal intensity. What would be the opposite of belief? Disbelief? John 3:36 suggests that disobedience is the opposite of belief, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.” Again, our belief seems to be linked to what we do, or don’t do, as opposed to merely agreeing to some concept intellectually.

This is not meant to be a biblical study on the concept of Christian Justification, but just an illustration of how static words on a page are subject to human interpretation. When our nation’s founding fathers wrote the Constitution, why did they bother to form a Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution? Did they not understand what they were writing? Did they not know how to express themselves? Could not future generations just read the words and understand what to believe and what to do in terms of governing a nation?

One can argue that the Bible is the living Word of God, not dead words on paper, and the true believer is guided by the Holy Spirit to the correct interpretation. In this case, all the disagreements among Christians and all the different denominations can be explained by people not listening to or misinterpreting the Holy Spirit. Of course this begs the question, who should I listen to if I cannot question the Holy Spirit directly? I’m afraid the answer in many cases becomes “Whoever agrees with me” and thus we make ourselves God. This is why Jesus founded a Church, not a book. We could all take a lesson in humility from an Ethiopian eunuch who lived long ago. He got it!

“Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’” (Acts 8:30-31)