Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Think...Therefore I Do

I’ve been speaking at a few parishes within my home diocese of Joliet, IL about my new book, Faith with Good Reason. During the talks, a general theme has come up which is quite simple in concept, but perhaps sometimes forgotten; it’s the fact that what we think ultimately directs what we do.

Many might be familiar with the tragic philosophy that says, “I think, therefore I am”. This makes the reality of our being dependent upon our thinking; it also bodes very well for a narcissistic society. With this as a base premise, one could see how believing in “yourself” is the most important thing in the universe to believe in. It also explains how bad things can happen in democracies in which the souls of the citizens are ruled by their own desires.

St. Augustine said something that sounds similar, but might as well come from the other side of the universe; “I believe, therefore I speak.”1 Perhaps St. Augustine got this from St. Paul who wrote, “Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we too believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13). Both saints would acknowledge that their ability to proclaim Truth ultimately comes from something outside of themselves…and that something is what we call “God”.

If God is Truth itself, then “I think, therefore I do” may be more accurate words to live by if put in the context of the human soul. Our intellect thinks and our will does. Our will reaches for what our intellect has understood.
Consider the importance of “thinking & doing” in the following non-theological example: 2

  • A World Series bat and ball signed by some famous Chicago Cubs costs $1500.
  • The bat costs $1000 more than the ball.
  • How much does the ball cost?
Let’s go forward with the thinking that says the ball must be $500. Now suppose an individual offers you the same ball for $400 and you think, “Good deal! I can save a hundred bucks!” If you were to pay the $400 you would actually be losing $150 because the ball is only $250!

Breaking the problem down step-by-step, we can see the reality:
                    The bat and ball cost $1500:      Bat + Ball = $1500
  The bat costs $1000 more than the ball:      Bat = Ball + $1000
     We now express the problem like this:      (Ball + $1000) + Ball = $1500
                How much does the ball cost?:      ($250 + $1000) + $250 = $1500

So the ball is $250 and the bat is $1250 for a grand total of $1500. Why is this important? Because what we think directs what we do. If we are thinking wrongly (like thinking the ball is $500), then we will be doing wrongly (like taking a bad deal).
Some of this logic can spill over into the notion of “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”. This is an important idea because we know we can separate an inclination we have from what we do about it. I am a sinner, but it is not necessary that I sin. To internalize this and make it real I need to understand what sin is and why it’s bad for me. If I were an alcoholic it would not be necessary that I drink, but again, to internalize this and make it real I would need to understand what alcohol is and why it’s bad for me. Loving the sinner, but hating the sin also frees us to love our enemies, since we are able to separate the two.

But what if we go forward with the thinking that says…
  1. Who we are is what we do
  2. Our inclinations define who we are
If this is true, then our actions are as integral to who we are as our skin color or our gender. With this mentality it’s easy to see why those who dissent from Catholic teaching in areas of human sexually (the topic of almost all dissent) might hate the phrase “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”.

For example, if some are inclined toward same-sex attraction, that’s who they are—and who they are and what they do cannot be separated, right? In other words, if you are gay, you should be gay. It’s an immutable fact. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are! Furthermore, if anyone hates what you are doing, they must also hate you personally since the two naturally go together. By the way, the exact same thinking can apply to opposite-sex attraction in the context of fornication. Go out and start dating; try different things with different partners. See what you like and what you don’t. Be who you are.

If we are thinking wrongly, then we will be doing wrongly! If God is Truth, then objective Truth should be the object of our intellect, which will in turn direct the will. If love is an act of the will, then to love or discern something we need to know it. The primacy of the intellect is important in order to act and love properly.

“The origin of all deviant practice is deviant thought. The knowing why it is deviant is a function of mind based on a standard of reason. It is the steady ‘knowing why’ that, before anything else, we are missing.” 3

  1. Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Barns & Noble Books, 2007), p. 5.
  2. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), p. 44.
  3. James V. Schall, S.J., Catholic World Report [Website], “Catholics and the Present Confusion”, (9 January 2017), Site address: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/5337/catholics_and_the_present_confusion.aspx