Sunday, January 31, 2010

It seems to me that your last two posts both dealt with the same idea, that we comfortably live in the world of senses, utilizing and interacting with our spiritual nature, but accepting its reality only in the abstractest of ways. This is connected with an idea I've been kicking around for a while in connection with my history thesis. I find a common theme in my experience with Americans today: it seems there are a few groups. The faithful educated (ideal Catholics, but including other denominations, faiths and even the rare atheist like Camus): learns about human nature and God and the human experience through reason and history/tradition, which includes art and literature and religious scriptures (these obviously have more meaning to Catholics). The faithful uneducated: I don't want to use the term "uneducated" but it fits the matrix here; I mean uneducated about religious belief- people who accept Truth apart from reason. Such people can be very smart and terrific debaters, but I just don't get their goal (who cares if God made the world in 7x24 hours or 10 billion years?). The unfaithful educated: a small group of committed atheists. I don't know if I've really met any of these, but this group would include maybe Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape), scientists who believe in mere forces. The unfaithful uneducated: this is a popular group in universities; these people tend to collect in or near urban areas for their high density of Starbucks locations, where they can sip tall lattes and talk passionately about problems of human rights violations, global issues, religious bigotry and the US empire. This is the group I think that irritates me the most (they end up on TV commentary shows); they hijack the scientific work of the unfaithful educated, but accept the pleasant aspects of the educated faithful's anthropology. Then they whine.
I forget why I got onto this; Oh yeah! I think the unfaithful uneducated group are the ones pushing the materialistic worldview, thinking that their values and abhorrence for genocide comes out of science. They refuse to accept (or even look at) the monstrous results of a-morality, and decry religion as a stewpot of bigotry and violence.
To them I offer Camus, an atheist who was honest enough to recognize atheism's results: “In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to the wild beasts in front of the assembled people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and judgment remained unclouded. But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in one sense cripple judgment.”
The spiritual life is most important for personal growth and Love of the Lord and the full life, but even from an impersonal philosophical point of view, it is necessary for preserving human civilization.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Practicality of the Supernatural: Why Getting to “The State of Grace” Takes Action and Actually Means Something

I do not spend enough quality time reflecting on and rejecting the lies I come to believe everyday simply living in the world. I don’t intend to expound upon “the whole world is an evil place” dogma trumpeted by certain well-meaning Catholics. Instead, I want to point out simply that we are bombarded by ideas and theories everyday; some are necessarily incorrect, for many of them contradict each other. They aren’t all evil; they are simply insufficient or incomplete. I watch movies, enjoy TV, read the news, read novels, etc – and beliefs about life, God, the world, and our purpose on this earth are expressed implicitly and explicitly throughout much of these.

I do not spend the necessary time weeding out and recognizing the falsity of much of these secular beliefs. Our prayer, relationships, the sacraments, and service are tools by which we realign ourselves with the Truth that is Christ. Regardless, I find myself accepting many beliefs unconsciously, and spending much time untangling the mess I consider my intellectual foundation.

Here is one example that stuck me as I was tiling the floor in the bathroom of my soon-to-be addition. The preface to this thought is my recent reading of Thomas Merton’s “7 Storey Mountain,” a fantastically brilliant read, one I recommend to everyone. In this autobiography, Merton discusses the spiritual life in such concrete and real terms, with such a belief in its reality. It is Merton’s clear-minded reflection on how his spiritual life affected and affects his physical and psychological life that has left such an impact on me. It was as I was tiling the bathroom floor, my hands raw and covered in grout, that I realized a serious untruth that I often maintain unconsciously: the idea that the spiritual life is somehow not as real or practical as physical life – or that is shouldn’t act in a similar fashion as the physical world – especially in relation to certain Catholic teachings.

For example, I find certain ideas to be extremely hard to grapple with, like “being in the state of grace” vs. “not being in the state of grace.” How is it that a person admitting his guilt and a priest saying a few prayers drastically affects reality? More to the point, if there is a difference, why does the change take a person performing formulaic rituals? Doesn’t God know everyone’s hearts? Why would He wait till you go to confession to forgive you and put you in the “state of grace?” Can’t he snap his fingers and make everything good?

What this line of thought presupposes is (besides the possible idea that “supernatural reality” is a silly idea) the belief that the supernatural order of existence exists completely on its own, with no relation to the physical world. Now I accept that my physical state of being – for simplicity’s sake, let me simply use the terms “being sick” and “healthy” – is real; and I accept that I need to do something in order to go from one state to the other. Or, if I get better without doing anything, then my body was fighting the sickness. Either way, I recognize that certain things need to be done in order for me to become well. So why don’t I believe that something needs to be done, perhaps even physically, for me to go to a different spiritual state of being.

Spending as much time as I do in the world that I inhabit, it is no wonder I have subconsciously accepted two interrelated beliefs: a) it’s nice and OK to talk about supernatural reality, but it isn’t as “real” as the physical world; b) if supernatural reality exists, then it can’t be connected at to physical reality. How much of what I watch, read, and discuss contradicts these lies?

But these beliefs are purported by people who spend their time consumed with the physical world – people who never look up or beyond what lies physically in their paths. It is no wonder they hold these beliefs to be self-evident; but what is my excuse? I guess my excuse is my desire not to be over-spiritual. I don’t want to consult Jesus on what flavor of ice cream I will have for dessert. But in my hasty longing to avoid super-spirituality, I have lost much of my grasp on spirituality in general.

Why is it crazy to think that there are spiritual states of being, such as there are states of water or other physical matter? If anything, the spiritual life is more real than the physical life (although I write this with a suspicious look of confusion on my face). Furthermore, why is crazy for me to think that aspects of spiritual life are affected by the physical life? Continuing, why is it crazy to think that the Creator of all intended for the two to interact in real and awesome ways? So it isn’t a stretch to think that there is a real physical and spiritual purpose in the act of confessing your sins and the prayers of the confessor afterwards.

I need to remind myself continually to reflect upon the beliefs I unconsciously absorb through my daily life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Loss of Philosophical Language in the Modern World: Why We Need to Relearn Aquinas

The other day, as I hopped in my car and flipped on the radio, I was introduced to four of five people amicably discussing the Proposition Eight in California debate on NPR. In their intellectual (and often nasal) tones of voice, they were outlining the present court case. They were diligently exploring the prosecution’s argument, while rather blithely rejecting the defense’s foundation. (Thank you, NPR.) Two things struck me as the speakers droned on. I will take this post to outline the first.

One of the speakers brought up the “procreative” argument against gay-marriage. Of course, she brought it up simply so she could mock it roundly. She began by paraphrasing the judge on the case as saying something to the extent of: “the last couple I married were both between the ages of 84 and 91; I don’t think there is going to be much procreation going on there.” (Mental image: Delete. Empty Recycle Bin. Thank you.) This is the common rebuttal to the “procreative” argument that states that gay couples can’t have kids: well, sterile couples and old couples can’t have children; and therefore, they have the same procreative potential as a gay couple. We allow sterile couples to marry; why don’t we allow gay couples?

I’ll admit that this rebuttal often has me scratching my head. There’s a simplicity to it that seems difficult to overcome, and as I was listening to the radio, I tried hard to find the proper response. My mind went immediately to the idea of a heterosexual couple being “ordered toward procreation,” even if they can’t or won’t have children. I directly cast this thought from my head for two reasons: 1) It would be scoffed at by supporters of gay-marriage, labeled as pointless intellectual obfuscation. 2) I wasn’t exactly sure how “practical” this abstract idea was. Then I had a mini-revelation: We distrust philosophical concepts that seem abstract because we think the abstract is somehow disconnected from reality. Well, this just isn’t the case.

To say that a heterosexual marriage is ordered toward procreation – independent of sterility, conjugal relations, intention, or age – does in fact hold meaning. But much of the modern world seems to be completely ignorant of philosophic terms – and, as such, cannot grasp this reality. “Being ordered toward procreation” becomes a meaningless term, since anything stated conceptually is misunderstood. And much of the rest of the modern world that isn’t ignorant is suspicious of these philosophic terms; to them, it rings too much of medievalism scholasticism: it’s too pre-Enlightenment and Descartes. And to others, a term like this is simply an abstract concept used to justify bigoted beliefs already held. Last, it can be argued that abstract concepts have no real place in practical, physical life.

However, my study of Thomism (and it is so little it is laughable) at the very least allows me to remember that, like Aristotle, Aquinas believed in the connection of body and soul. They perhaps can be discussed as separate terms, but they coexist. Therefore, abstract philosophic universals – like “heterosexual marriage is ordered toward procreation” – exists both in theory, but also in physical reality.

There is a physical procreative difference between the elderly couple the judge mentioned and a gay couple. In the same sense, there is a procreative similarity between the elderly couple that cannot have children and a heterosexual couple that is actively procreating.

I realize that I am not exploring fully the term “ordered toward procreation,” but that’s not the point of my revelation. The point I realized in my car the other day as the NPR speaker scoffed at “procreative argument” against gay-marriage, was that our modern world is sorely missing its education in philosophy. Most of the world is ignorant or suspicious of its relevance to physical life; and this is an awful fact. Perhaps it is only when we begin to understand the practicality, relevance, beauty, and importance of understanding the purpose and truth of philosophy that we will be able to understand the reality behind certain politic arguments.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Can God have NOT created the universe?

I’m not sure the answer to this question can be or is known; nor am I sure it is important. But perhaps it is known; perhaps it is important.

Can God have NOT created the universe? Isn’t it his very essence to be self-giving? Can He be anything but what His essence requires?

Abortion, Interconnectedness, Freedom, and Egalitarianism

The full, true pro-life argument rests on the interconnectedness of humanity (Basil’s communion theology); in the process, it rejects the radical freedom and complete egalitarianism that the modern world holds in such high esteem.

The pro-lifer usually stands by the (good) argument “no one has a right to kill,” while the pro-choicer’s go-to statement is “no one has a right to tell me what to do with my body.” Attempting to be as empathetic as possible, I truly entered the argument of the pro-choicer. From that perspective, the woman is not choosing to kill the child, even if we accept that it is a child. The woman is instead choosing to treat her body in such a way that may lead to the death of the embryo/child. In ethics, we can make these sorts of distinctions. Now, I know that there is a difference between an action that directly leads to a person’s death and one that indirectly does so, and that there is a moral difference between the two. However, it could be argued that the pregnant woman is NOT choosing to kill the child, but to treat her body in such a way that she has a right to – and that the death of the embryo/child is secondary. If you immerse yourself in this side of the argument, it doesn’t matter whether or not the embryo is a child or not, for there is no direct killing involved.

Stay with this mindset for a moment more: If abortion is illegal, then you are requiring a woman to give up 9 months of her life for the sake of someone else, someone she doesn’t have any duty toward. Accepting this reality would be preposterous.

I have come to this conclusion of late, and I’m not a 100% sure I believe it yet: What is behind the pro-life debate is not as much whether or not the embryo is alive – although I think this would help the legal side of the battle, as well as many or most peoples’ reaction to the act of abortion – but instead the fact that human life is interconnected. I can have a duty to a human being without choosing it. I do not have the supreme, extreme freedom that the modern world so desperately assigns to the human individual.

Coupled with this ideal of freedom is the ideal of egalitarianism. For if we accept the pro-life argument, we are (according to one way of thinking) saying “men are more free than women.” And in one sense, we are.

Until the interconnectedness of human life can be established, and the myths of hyper-freedom and hyper-egalitarianism dispelled, the pro-life argument can’t reach the ears of the pro-choicer.