Monthly Archives: September 2014

Politics and Religion Pt. 1

Catholic Answers published its now-famous “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” back in 2004 (updated in 2006) that has now sold millions of copies with millions more having been distributed for free. In that document, for which Catholic Answers has taken a lot of flack by the way, we give guidance to Catholics in voting so that, quite frankly, Catholics will “vote like Catholics,” yet, we do much more than just that. We give instruction, in complete harmony with the teaching authority of the Church, as to the most important moral issues of our day that are politically in play. We called them “the Five Non-Negotiables” of Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem-cell research, Human Cloning, and so-called Homosexual “Marriage.”

To put it simply: these are “deal-breakers” when it comes to the Catholic voting. These are matters definitively declared by the Church to be objectively and absolutely immoral. That is what we mean by “non-negotiable.” There is no legitimate debate–no “wiggle room”–on these issues. Now then, are these the only “non-negotiables” from a Catholic perspective? No, they are not! There are many non-negotiables we could speak of, and we mention a couple of them in our Voter’s Guide: “Genocide and Contraception” are specifically mentioned and I would add “pornography” and we could add many other “non-negotiables.”

In fact, in our most recent iteration we had to add “religious liberty” as another “non-negotiable” with the advent of the attack of the Obama Administration on our religious liberties of late. I am adding that to my list of “non-negotiables” in a future post. Stay posted! But these former three are “non-negotiables” in Catholic Moral Theology because they too are matters that are intrinsically and absolutely immoral, and gravely so. However, these three issues and more that we could talk about are really not in play politically generally speaking. Our big five are. Thus, we focused our attention on these five, “non-negotiables.” As I said before, I will be adding number six in this series of posts.

Are You a “Single Issue Voter?”

But wait a minute, Tim, some will say here. “Are you saying Catholics are single issue voters?” Well, no! I’m saying we are at least “six-issue voters!” I say that kind of tongue and cheek, but remember this: There are two things to consider here. First, these “six non-negotiables” we are going to talk about in detail are indeed deal-breakers, generally speaking, when it comes to Catholics voting, but we also must consider that Catholics, Christians, men and women of good will, ALL OF US, should be engaged in all the issues of the day. At least, as best we can. We should be knowledgeable on all of the issues that are in play, such as the economy, war, counter-terrorism, immigration policy and more—we should be deeply involved politically and leading the charge when it comes to these matters and more whether there is an election imminent or not. Remember folks: Public policy is never determined on election-day alone! Election-day is critical, to be sure, but even if the worst of politicians are elected, we still have a voice that can shape the agenda and impede evil legislation from ever being able to be passed on whatever the issue may be.

Politics and Religion

It is inevitable that whenever the topic of politics or anything that may be construed as “political” arises, you will hear words to the effect of—“What does the Church have to do with politics! You should stay out of politics!” To use my best theological language… HOGWASH! The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that Catholics have an obligation to be involved in whatever capacity we can be in politics in paragraph 2246:

It is a part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.

In each of these six non-negotiables, we have issues that involve both the salvation of souls and the fundamental rights of man. And very importantly, each of these matters represent points of the moral law definitively taught by the Church making these matters absolutely “black and white” and unchangeable where there is no “wiggle room” for Catholics. Catholics must not vote for any of these five non-negotiables, or for any politician who supports them.

Jiminy Cricket!

But what about those who will say, “Doesn’t the Church teach that we must follow our conscience? What if I disagree with the Church in my conscience? Wouldn’t the truly “Catholic” thing to do be to go with my conscience?”

This is a common misconception. According to CCC 1777, the Catholic Church teaches:

Moral conscience, present at the heart of a person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.

Conscience is like a built-in red flag that goes up whenever we find ourselves contemplating doing something that is wrong. Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, one of the 16 documents from Vatican II, adds this, in paragraph 16:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.

However, though all of us are ultimately bound to follow what CCC 1790 calls “the -certain judgment of his conscience,” our consciences, because of the reality of both original and personal sin that can cause us to become blinded to error and sin, as well as the fact that some of us have formed our consciences more completely than others, can become either mal-formed or simply suffer from ignorance concerning the various moral issues we face. CCC 1790 explains:

… it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

Now, this ignorance can either be vincible or “invincible,” meaning one can either be culpable for this ignorance or not culpable. For example, if the ignorance was caused, as CCC 1791 says, “when a man takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin,” the Catechism says, “In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.” However, if the person is not responsible for his ignorance, CCC 1793 says, “the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.”

Having said that, there are a couple crucial points to be made here: First, as CCC 1793 goes on to say, the evil committed even by someone who would not be culpable for it, “is no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.”

And this is true for many reasons. First of all, ignorance is never “bliss;” ignorance is dangerous. Evils committed in ignorance cause enormous amounts of pain and it is so often true that evil begets more evil. Second, we can never know the culpability of anyone before God in a strict sense. God alone is the final judge of our inner motives. St. Paul said, in I Cor. 4:3-5 that he could not even judge himself, much less anyone else!

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.

Thus, it is imperative that we work to eliminate error wherever we find it. Eternal souls may well be on the line at times, but the uprightness of the moral order is always at stake. Thus, we come to a very important point in this discussion. As human beings we have a responsibility to seek the truth of the matter whenever we are speaking of truths of faith and morals. All human beings are responsible to form their consciences as best they can in accordance with the moral law and to seek to know these truths. But we Catholics, in particular, have a greater responsibility because of the fact that we have an infallible guide in the Church by which we are obligated to form our consciences. CCC 1785 says it like this:

In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.

A simple way to remember what we are talking about is this: If Jesus Christ, the Son of God came up to you and answered a question you had about whether a particular action was moral or immoral, would you say to him, “Oh, no, Jesus. I appreciate your opinion, but my conscience is telling me the opposite,” do you go with Jesus or with “your conscience.” If you said, “my conscience,” you don’t understand the nature of conscience. Our consciences must be formed by the teachings of Christ. And for Catholics, this would include the “authoritative teaching of the Church” as the CCC said because that is Jesus speaking to us through the Church.

If you enjoyed this, I would suggest you do two things. 1) Stay tuned for upcoming posts where we will take apart “the Six Non-Negotiables.” 2) Click here to get more information on this topic.

Do Catholics Pray “Vain Repetitions?”

As a young Protestant, this was one of my favorites to ask Catholics. “Why do Catholics pray ‘repetitious prayer’ like the Rosary when Jesus says not to pray ‘vain repetitions’ in Matthew 6:7?”

I think we should begin here by quoting the actual text of Matt. 6:7:

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases (“vain repetitions” in KJV) as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Notice the context? Jesus said “do not heap up ‘empty phrases’ (Gr. – battalagesete,  which means to stammer, babble, prate, or to repeat the same things over and over mindlessly) as the Gentiles do…” We have to remember that the main idea of prayer and sacrifice among the pagans was to appease the gods so that you could go on with your own life. You had to be careful to “take care of” all of the gods by mentioning them, and saying all the right words, lest you bring a curse upon yourself.

And remember as well, the gods themselves were immoral at times! They were selfish, cruel, vengeful etc. The pagans would say their incantations, offer their sacrifice, but there was no real connection between the moral life and the prayer. Jesus is saying that this will not cut it in the New Covenant Kingdom of God! One must pray from a heart of repentance and submission to God’s will. But does Jesus mean to exclude the possibility of devotions like the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet which repeat prayers? No, he does not. This becomes evident when in the very next verses of Matthew 6, Jesus says:

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Jesus gave us a prayer to recite! But notice the emphasis on living the words of the prayer! This is a prayer to be recited, but they are neither “empty phrases” nor “vain repetitions.”

Examples of Biblical “Repetitious Prayer”

Consider the prayers of the angels in Revelation 4:8:

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

These “four living creatures” refer back to four angels, or “Seraphim,” that Isaiah saw as revealed in Is. 6:1-3 about 800 years earlier, and guess what they were praying?

In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Someone needs to inform these angels about “vain repetition!” According to many of our Protestant friends, especially Fundamentalists, they need to knock it off and pray something different! They’d been praying like that for ca. 800 years!

I say that tongue and cheek, of course, because though we don’t understand fully “time” as it applies to angels, let’s just say they have been praying this way for a lot longer than just 800 years. How about longer than  mankind has even existed! That’s a long time! There is obviously something more to Jesus’ words than just to say we should not pray the same words more than once or twice.

I challenge my Protestant friends to take a serious look at Psalm 136 and consider the fact that Jews and Christians have prayed these Psalms for thousands of years. Psalm 136 repeats the words “for his steadfast love endures for ever” 26 times in 26 verses!

Perhaps most importantly, we have Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Mark 14:32-39:

And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And the took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ”Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptiation; the spirit indeed is weilling, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again, he came and found them sleeping… And he came a third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping…?”

Our Lord was here praying for hours and saying the same words. Is this “vain repetition?”

Final Thoughts

Would any wife tell her husband, “Hey knock it off! You’ve already told me you loved me three times today! I don’t want to hear it any more!” I think not! The key here is that the words are from the heart, not the number of times they are said. I think that is Jesus’ emphasis. There are some words, like “I love you,” or like the “Our Father,” or the “Hail, Mary,” that you really can’t improve. The key is that we truly enter into the words so that they are coming from our hearts.

For those who do not know, the Rosary is not about mindless repetition so that God will hear us. We repeat the prayers of the Rosary to be sure, but we do so in order that we may keep our focus while we meditate upon the most important mysteries of the Faith. I find it to be a wonderful way for me to be able to focus on the Lord.

I find it ironic that as a former Protestant who prayed much, and many words, before I was Catholic, that it was far easier to drift into “vain repetition” when all I prayed was spontaneous prayers. My prayers often devolved into petition after petition, and yes, I tended to pray the same way, and the same words, over and over, over the years.

I have found praying liturgical prayer, and devotional prayers to have tremendous spiritual benefit. First, these prayers are either from Scripture, or from the greatest minds and souls who have ever walked the earth who have gone before us. They are theologically correct as well as spiritually rich. They free me from having to think about what I am going to say next and they allow me to really enter into my prayer, and into God. These prayers challenge me at times because of their spiritual depth while they keep me from reducing God to a cosmic bubble gum machine. “Give me, give me, give…”

In the end, I have found, the prayers, devotions, and meditations of the Catholic tradition actually save me from the “vain repetition” that Jesus warns about in the Gospel.

This does not mean that there is not a danger of mindlessly repeating the Rosary or other such devotions. There is. We must always stay on guard against that very real possibility. But if we do fall prey to “vain repetition” in prayer, it will not be because we are “saying the same words” over and over in prayer as our Lord did in Mark 14:39. It will be because we are not praying from the heart and truly entering into the great devotions Holy Mother Church provides for our spiritual nourishment.

If you enjoyed this and you want to dive deeper, click here.

Seven Proofs for the Natural Immortality of the Human Soul

The late Dr. Antony Flew—perhaps the greatest among atheist thinkers of the last 100 years—came to faith in God largely through his studies in philosophy and, most especially, science, as he recounted in his book written with Roy Abraham Varghese, “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.”

It was in 2004 that Dr. Flew rocked the world with his confession that he had come to believe in God. He made clear that he accepted deism, and not the God of the Bible, or of any other of the great world religions. But this in no way lessened the impact of his startling declaration. The reactions ranged from surprise, to disbelief, to even questioning whether Dr. Flew’s mental capacities were diminished, perhaps because of his age. He was 81 at the time of his “conversion.”

Let me assure you, as one who knows personally one of the men who walked alongside Dr. Flew on his journey toward truth, and who helped him to write the above-mentioned book, Roy Abraham Varghese, his radical change was very much real, his faculties were not diminished, and he was entirely free in his decision-making process.

It is interesting to note that in the second appendix of There is a God, there is a fascinating dialogue between Dr. Flew and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright on whether or not God has revealed himself to man, where Flew had this to say about Christianity:

I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honoured and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. … If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat (pp. 185–186).

Dr. Flew never came to accept Christ or Christianity, or any of the distinctively Christian teachings like the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the incarnation of Christ, etc. This is almost to be expected as they are dependent upon supernatural assistance and the acceptance of divine revelation. As a deist, Flew would have accepted none of these teachings.

But interestingly enough, Flew also never came to accept the immortality of the human soul. And this is a truth that is knowable by the natural light of reason apart from revelation. This makes me wonder if this may well have been the linchpin that, if understood and accepted, might have completed the foundation for Dr. Flew upon which the entirety of the revelation of God may well have been able to rest. Perhaps then Dr. Flew would have been able to accept the further light of revelation?

Perhaps.

Because Dr. Flew, unfortunately, died in 2010, just six years after his declaration of faith, I also wonder if time simply ran out before he would have come to the fullness of truth. This we will not know this side of eternity. But I do think we can rejoice in a reasonable hope that he was heading in the right direction when he passed away. Dr. Flew was truly a fascinating man. And, according to my friend Roy Abraham Varghese, he was a good man as well.

Our Reason Tells Us So

Dr. Flew was certainly not alone in his struggle with the concept of the natural immortality of the human soul. (I say “natural” because human beings uniquely possess an immortal soul by nature. That means, man does not need grace in order for his soul to live forever. It would do so naturally, even if he ends up in the isolation and emptiness of hell forever.) This is a point of difficulty for many skepetics. Thus, it is crucial for Christians to know how to explain it to skeptics. And to know that we don’t need a Bible to be able to do so.

The Bible certainly more than helps those who believe in its inspiration, and in the Church that has the authority to definitively interpret it. Through these great gifts, all can know the essential truths of the Faith, including the natural immortality of the human soul, both easily and infallibly. But this hardly helps when you are speaking to someone who doesn’t accept the Bible as God’s word.

The truth is, we can can demonstrate this truth through reason alone, i.e., through philosophy. But first we need to establish the fact that humans have souls at all, and define our terms.

Does Fido Have a Soul?

The soul is, by definition, the unifying and vivifying principle that accounts for the life and what philosophers call the “immanent action” of all living things. The word “immanent” comes from two Latin words that mean “to remain” and “in.” “Immanent action” means the multiple parts that comprise a living being are able to act “from within” in a unified way, and in accordance with its given nature, for the good of the whole being. The soul is what accounts for this unified action that is essential for there to be life.

This comes as a surprise to many Christians with whom I speak, but St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, and it follows from our definition of the soul above, that not only humans, but non-rational animals and plants have souls as well. Man alone possesses what St. Thomas calls a “rational,” or “spiritual” soul. Plants and animals possess “material souls” that, unlike human souls, are dependent upon matter for their existence. But they possess souls nonetheless.

To be precise, there are three categories of souls:

1. Vegetative – This category of soul empowers its host to be able to take in nutrition and hydration, grow, and reproduce others of its kind. A rock can’t do this!

2. Sensitive – An animal with a sensitive soul can also acquire sense knowledge and use locomotion to both ward off danger and to gather goods it needs to survive and thrive.

These first two categories of souls are material in nature. By that I mean, they are entirely dependent upon the material body for their existence. As St. Thomas says, “They are adduced from the potency of the matter.” When the host dies, the vegetative or sensitive soul ceases to exist.

3. Rational – Capable of all the above, the animal possessing a rational soul is capable of acquiring intellectual, or “spiritual,” knowledge as well, and of choosing to freely act toward chosen ends.

The question now becomes: how does any of this demonstrate the soul of man to be immortal?

What is Death?

In order to get where we need to go, we first have to define death. CCC 997 defines it as, “… the separation of the soul from the body”—an excellent definition. But perhaps a more precise philosophical definition is: “The reduction of a composite being into its component parts.” This is why I would say when Fido dies, you might want to get him out of the house and bury him. It won’t take long for him to start the process to becoming “reduced to his component parts.” And that process gets a bit messy!

However, a spirit, by definition, has no parts. There is nothing to be “reduced to its component parts.” Thus, that which is purely spiritual cannot die.

So for my first four proofs for the immortality of the soul, I am going to demonstrate it by showing the soul to be “spiritual” in nature. If I can do this, I will have accomplished the task at hand.

For my fifth, sixth, and seventh proofs, I will make my appeal through what we find in human experience down through the millennia that points us in the direction of man possessing an immortal soul.

The Soul, the Person, and the Body

The two principle powers of the soul are its power to know and to will. Why do we say these powers lie in the soul? In simple terms, it is because it is the entire man that comes to “know” or to “love” (love being the highest purpose of the will) not just “part” of him. This would seem to indicate that the same “unifying and vivifying principle” that explains man’s life, would also explain his power to know and to will.

But man is more than just a soul. He also directly experiences the “I” that unifies all that he is and all that he has done down through the decades of his life. This “I” represents the individual “person” that constitutes each human being.

Is there a distinction between the soul and the person? Yes. But it can be a bit tricky to demonstrate.

Perhaps it would best to demonstrate the distinctions by laying out some of the differences between the body, soul, and person.

There is no doubt that the body contributes to the soul’s ability to come to know. A damaged brain is a clear indicator here. The soul needs a properly functioning brain to be able to come to know anything, ordinarily speaking.

Yet, it is also interesting to note that according to philosopher and theologian, J.P. Moreland, man is much more than a body as well. Moreland provides:

“… neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield electrically stimulated the brains of epilepsy patients and found he could cause them to move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk or swallow…”

But yet, Moreland says, the “patient would respond by saying, ‘I didn’t do that. You did.”’ Further, no matter how much probing and electrical prodding, Penfield found there is no place in the brain that can “cause a patient to believe or decide” (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator, p. 258.).

Thus, the “I,” or, the person, seems to use his body, or here, his brain, to be sure, but “he” is not determined by it.

We can also say with confidence that the “I” is not synonymous with the intellect and will, or the soul, either because “I” can struggle to remember, to know, or to exercise its will. There seems to be more to a person than just a body, or even just a soul. Man seems to be a body/soul composite. Both his body and soul contribute to the great and mysterious “I.”

The Seven Proofs for the Natural Immortality of the Human Soul

1. The Intellect Possesses the Power of Abstraction

St. Thomas Aquinas explained, “The operation of anything follows the mode of its being” (Summa Theologica, Pt. 1, Q. 75, art. 3). To put it in simpler terms: action follows being. One can tell something of the nature of a thing through examining its actions. Hence, the spiritual nature of the human soul; and therefore its immortality, can be proven through the exhibition of its spiritual power in human acts. One such “spiritual action” is the power of abstraction.

To use thomistic language once again, when a human being comes to know something or someone, let’s say, he sees a man, “Tim,” his senses engage the individual; “Tim,” through the immediate “accidental” qualities that he sees. By “accidentals,” we mean the non-essential, or changeable, aspects of “Tim” like his size, color, or colors, weight, etc. From this conglomeration of accidentals, his intellect abstracts the “form” of “man-ness” from that individual (This reminds me of a philosophy professor I had in college who seemed to have an inability to pronounce a noun without adding a “ness” to the end of it.).

This “form” the intellect abstracts is an immaterial likeness of the object thought about or seen. It is ordinarily derived from a particular object, like the man, “Tim,” as I mentioned above, but it transcends the particular individual. The form gets at the essence of “Tim.” It is that which is universal concerning “Tim,” the man. He is risible (he laughs), he reasons, he worships, and more. This is that which is changeless and applies not just to “Tim,” but to all men. And very importantly for our purpose, we must remember that this essential “form” abstracted by the intellect is a spiritual reality. It transcends the individual.

Now, there is a material likeness, or image, that is concrete and singular, impressed in the memory of man, but that is not what we are talking about here. Dogs, cats, birds, and bats have memory. Non-rational animals do not have the power to abstract the form of “man.” Only human beings can comprehend “man-ness” or “dog-ness.”

This is not to say the soul of a dog is not real. It is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, a “real principle,” and it is “adduced from the potency of the matter.” This is analogous to elements formed into a compound or an atomic explosion caused from the potency of the matter used in the formation of a bomb. Certain kinds of matter exist in potency to other kinds of matter that when joined create elements, atomic explosions, or Fido! But only man (among animals on earth) has this power of abstraction that necessarily involves a spiritual principle.

Why is this crucial to understand? Well, let’s introduce yet another “form” here… “tree-ness.” “Tree” is defined as, “A woody perennial plant, having a single main stem or trunk arising from the soil and having branches and foliage.” This would represent “the form” that is common to all trees apart from any particular. I could burn the individual tree from which I abstract the form of “tree-ness,” and reduce it to ash so that there is no longer this particular “tree” in existence, but I can never burn “tree-ness” because it is “spiritual,” or “universal.”

Remember our philosophical principle? “Action follows being?” If the soul has this spiritual power to “abstract” the form of “tree,” or “man,” it must be spiritual. And if the soul is spiritual, it has to be immortal. It cannot be “reduced to its component parts.”

2. The Soul Forms Ideas of Realities That Are Immaterial

The human soul not only abstracts the forms of material entities encountered, but it also has the power to know the ideas or “forms” of immaterial realities like logical sequence, moral goodness, property rights, philosophical categories like “substance,” cause and effect, and more.

Where are these realities? What color are they? How big are they? How much do they weigh?

They have no color, size, or weight because they are spiritual—and by definition—immaterial. Sense image alone (like the Empiricists John Locke and David Hume say is the only source of knowledge) cannot account for these. We are not talking about the material world here.

To form an idea of something spiritual, again, requires a spiritual principle, i.e., the soul. If it’s spiritual, it can’t die.

3. The Will Strives for Immaterial Goods

Closely related to my first two proofs, just as the intellect has the power to abstract the “spiritual” forms of the things and beings it encounters, and to form ideas of immaterial realities, the will also has the power to strive for immaterial things, like prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, etc. One cannot produce what one does not possess. There must be a spiritual; and therefore, immortal principle (the soul), to will these spiritual realities.

4. The Intellect Can Reflect Upon Its Own Act of Knowledge

It could not do so if it were material. A material faculty, such as the power of vision, only reacts in response to external stimuli. It could only be said to “perceive” inasmuch as one “part” was acted upon by another “part” of something else. When our intellect reflects on its own act of knowing, and we could add its own act of being as well, it is both subject and object of knowledge. The soul can only do this if it has no parts. A dog cannot reflect on its own act of knowing, or being. It just scratches! That is sense knowledge.

5. Man Has a Natural Desire to Live Forever

Aristotle gave us an extremely important philosophical principle when he said, “A potency without the possibility of actuality destroys nature.”

The existence of acorns necessitate the existence of oak trees. It is not that each individual acorn will be actualized and become an oak tree. That is clearly not the case. But if no acorns could be actualized, there would be no oak trees.

We could multiply examples here. A digestive system in animals necessarily means we can know there is food… somewhere out there. A female dog necessitates the existence of a male dog. If there’s not, then “dog” will be eliminated in fairly short order.

Thus, the non-rational animal seeks self-preservation, food and sex. Each of these is conditioned by time. Man has intellectual knowledge which is absolute. The “forms” are not conditioned to time as material knowledge is. Remember? The individual “tree” will die, but not the “form” or “idea” of tree that man alone possesses among creatures of earth. From this knowledge of the eternal springs a spontaneous desire to live forever. And this potency cannot exist in vain. That would be contrary to everything we see in nature.

6. The Testimony of Mankind Over the Centuries and Millennia

From ancient Egypt’s Book of the Dead, to Western Civilization’s Bible, every civilization, every culture, in all of human history has attested to the existence of an after-life.

Some will point out the very few exceptions—one being Hinayana (or Theravedic) Buddhism—that deny the existence of “spirit,” or the soul, to discount this our sixth proof. But to no avail.

Actually, the exception tends to prove the rule. And this, I would argue, is certainly the case with Hinayana Buddhism. Not only is this ancient form of Buddhism an anomaly in the world of religion, but the appearance of Mahayana Buddhism (that restored belief in “God” and “the soul”), very early in the history of Buddhism, and the fact that it is today by far the largest of the three main traditions of Buddhism, tends to demonstrate that man is so ordered to believe in the afterlife that errant thinking here or there over millenia can never keep its truth suppressed for very long.

7. The Existence of the Moral Law

My final proof for the natural immortality of the human soul is derived from the existence of the Moral Law that we can know apart from divine revelation. This is a true law knowable to all, and a law that man did not give to himself. And yet, it is often unpunished and the sanctions of law not carried out. Hence, there must be an eternity where all is rectified.

Necessarily rooted in the reality of the justice and wisdom of God who created both us and this that we call “Natural Law,” Plato said without the immortality of the soul there is no justice, which would be absurd. If there is a God who is just, then there must be final justice. Since final justice so often does not occur in this life, there must be a next life in which justice will be served.

If you liked this post, you will really like thisand this!

God Exists – I Can Prove It! Pt. 2

In my last blog post, we pretty much nailed the idea that the universe has a beginning. And if it has a beginning, it must have a Beginner who is omnipotent.

In a recent discussion with an atheist, however, I got an interesting retort at this point:

Just because there was a “beginning” of this universe of ours, does not mean there could not have been other universes before ours. Moreover, how do you know there are not parallel universes to ours and that ours came from one or more of them? Or, how do you know the universe doesn’t exist eternally through unlimited numbers of “big bangs?” Perhaps the universe simply expands and contracts over and over again. And why do you claim it to require “infinite power” to create something from nothing? You make no sense!

Here we go!

Science vs. Science Fiction

Let’s take these one at a time. With regard to it requiring infinite power to create something from nothing, let me use an analogy: Imagine that you happened upon two construction sites where houses were to be built. One of them had nothing there but piles of concrete mix, drywall, bricks, windows, doors, wire, etc. while the other already had a foundation laid, the walls, roof, and even some doors up and attached, but was still not complete. Which house would require more power or more effort to construct?

This is not a trick question.

The first house has less actuality and more potentiality; thus, it would require more power to actualize, to use philosophical terms. The more potency, the more power required to actualize that potency.

Well, now let’s imagine we have absolutely nothing to work with to bring a house into being. This would require infinite power because we would be considering infinite potency and zero actuality. Infinite potency would require infinite power. So how much power is required to create the universe ex nihilo, or from nothing? Infinite power.

As far as my friend’s other points are concerned, I think we are now traversing away from science and into the realm of science fiction. Physicists have generally discounted the expanding and contracting universe theory now that they have calculated in rough terms (certainly far from exact) what would be the size and density of the entire universe. Many scientists have thus concluded there is simply not enough density in the universe—even if you add so-called “dark matter” to the equation—for the universe to contract. Let me explain.

If you were to set off a large firecracker here on good ole’ terra firma, the paper in which the explosives would be wrapped would fly upward due to the concussion of the explosion. Then, that same paper would float back down to the earth. Why? Because there is a massive and dense object called “the earth” beneath it that generates a gravitational force strong enough to pull those objects back down to earth. The truth is, there is simply not enough density in the roughly 100 billion galaxies in the universe that could generate a force strong enough to pull all of those galaxies back together to cause another “big bang.” Moreover, physicists tell us that the laws of thermodynamics would still apply to an expanding and contracting universe. It would still run out of usable energy in time. And the increasing entropy still implies a beginning—ultimately. No matter how you slice it, science and scientists seem to be telling us there really was a “beginning!”

Multiverse Theory

As far the idea of multiple or even infinite universes goes, we can put this in the same category as so-called “string theory”—or theories—involving multiple dimensions and/or multiple universes; they ultimately only move the question of the first cause back a notch. Notwithstanding the fact that we are really in the realm of philosophy here and not science, because these theories are not scientifically falsifiable, there is, at best, no scientific evidence for any of these dimensions or universes. And even if there were evidence in favor of any of these theories, none of them can answer the ultimate question of the cause of all of these so-called universes or dimensions. And so it goes.

Back to Philosophy

But let us now leave the rarified atmosphere of science and come back to philosophy because there is a crucial point we need to make clear. Whether we are speaking of motion, cause, or being, it would be absurd to attempt to posit an infinite succession of finite movers, causes, or beings without the classic “unmoved mover,” “uncaused cause,” or ”necessary being”—God—because that would be like positing an infinite number of cars on a train none of which having the power to move the train itself. Whether your infinite movers are labeled as simply matter, parallel dimensions, or expanding and contracting universes, there has to be a first mover—the engine, if you will—in order to explain it all.

Making Another Motion

Often, in conversation with atheists at this point in the discussion, you will hit a wall with regard to the concept of “unmoved mover.” Yet, this concept is absolutely crucial. The objection will come in words to the effect of: ”How do you know your ‘first mover’ was not moved? Isn’t this denying the scientific laws of motion? If it is ‘moving’ it had to be moved!”

The answer is simple, but quite profound. If the “first mover” or “unmoved mover” were moving, or moved, it could not be the unmoved mover. It could not explain the existence of motion. That’s the point!

At this point in the conversation it becomes imperative to introduce some language with which many in the modern world will not be familiar. When we speak of the “unmoved mover,” it would logically have to be what philosophers call pure act. In order to understand this, we need to examine the concept of “motion” for a moment. If we look at the motion of any object in the universe, we say that it (or “he” if we were going to consider the motion of living beings) must first have the “potency” or “potential” to the kind of motion being considered. Then, that “potency” must be actualized or “reduced to act” as philosophers say, by another already actualized in this particular kind of motion we would be considering. This is Newton in philosophical terms.

Some may interject at this point, “I don’t have to be moved by anyone in order for me to move from here to there. I can move myself. What are you talking about?” And that is true. One of the defining characteristics of all living things is that they are capable of “immanent action,” which means they act “from within” as a whole being. We acknowledge that. But we are now speaking of ultimate motion, i.e., how all of creation was moved in the first place.

To make this as clear as we can, let’s consider “you” for a moment. Yes, you can move yourself. But you are not the explanation for your “first” motion. Your parents, for example, were the two “movers” who first “moved” you, so to speak, but they were not the absolute first mover because they themselves were “moved.” And as I said before, there cannot be infinite movers none of which being the “first mover,” because that would be absurd. And here’s the key: The “first mover,” would logically have to be “unmoved,” yet the source of all motion. Otherwise, motion itself simply could not be. What does that old song say? “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing…”

Moving Forward

Now, let’s move this argument forward… Get it? Move the argument…

A poor attempt at philosophical humor, I know.

Anyway, once we see that the first mover must be necessarily ”unmoved,” as I’ve demonstrated, it follows there would be no “potency” to motion in the unmoved mover. “He,” or “it” would be what philosophers refer to as pure act. It could not “move” from here to there because it would already be “there.” It would be omnipresent.

This “unmoved mover” could not then be comprised of matter. Matter is, by definition, measurable and finite—movable. By its very nature, matter possesses the potential, or “potency” for change. Thus, the unmoved mover would be of necessity immaterial. We call that “spirit.”

Moreover, the unmoved mover could not be comprised of parts, and it could not be finite. “Parts,” like matter, would necessarily have potency. And even a pure spirit (like angels) that is finite would necessarily have potency–the potential to move, learn, grow, etc. That which has potency cannot be the first mover.

So what can we conclude of the first, or “unmoved,” mover! It would have to be “spirit,” or not composed of matter. And it would have to pure actuality with no potency whatsoever.

But what does that mean?

There could be nothing that is not a logical contradiction that the unmoved mover would not be able to do. It would be all-powerful. If it lacked power, it would have the “potential” to grow in power.

It would not be able to come to know anything. Why? Because it would already know everything that is knowable. If it lacked in knowledge, it would have the potential to grow in knowledge.

So, guess what? We have now demonstrated the unmoved mover must be rational. “It” must possess rationality. So “it” is now a “he.” We’ll come back to this point in a moment.

Uncaused Cause

Let’s now consider the idea of the “uncaused cause.” ”It” would have to be eternal. Think about it. If it is “uncaused” that means it has no beginning. It would be eternal as well as the cause of all that is.

Some may object at this point. “Just because this ‘uncaused cause’ may have been eternal in the past, doesn’t mean it would still exist!”

Actually, it does. To have no beginning is to be outside of time and change. It would be impossible for an eternal being to move from being to non-being because an eternal being is changeless. Death requires movement from being to non-being that would be impossible for an eternal being. And this leads us to our next point…

Considering the Nature of Being

St. Thomas’s third proof for the existence of God is from contingent and necessary being. When we speak of “the unmoved mover,” and “the uncaused cause,” the problem folks have conceptually is they are thinking in terms of this ultimate being as just a larger version of a human being. We are not. In this third proof, we see this distinction a bit more clearly. When we speak of “the necessary being” of Thomas’s third proof, we are not speaking of just another being among beings. We are considering “being” itself.

If you recall from my last post, we’ve already established that every single thing and every being in the universe is contingent. Everything we see could either be or not be because everything we see has received its being from another. Because of this fact, nothing in the universe can explain its own being as well as being itself. There must be a being, then, that did not receive its being from another. It would simply be being itself—infinite being. This is the definition of the necessary being. In fact, it would not even be proper to refer to it as “a” being, technically speaking. It is being itself. Everything else that exists would merely participate in what “it” possesses infinitely!

As an aside here, I find it fascinating that God revealed his name to Moses as “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. Names, in ancient Hebrew culture, revealed something about the ontology of the one named. God appears to have revealed himself to Moses as this ultimate and infinite being which I have just demonstrated must actually exist.

Objection!

The next objection that often comes is to say something like this: ”I can see how there would have to be a being that did not receive its being from another, but my question is: why would this first being have to be infinite?”

Even though I’ve already demonstrated this to be true, I find this point needs to be hammered home over and over before it sinks in. So at this point I approach it from yet another angle that seems to be helpful for some.

Let’s consider what we can know about being itself. Think about this. Here in my hand, I am holding an acorn. This acorn has the potential of becoming an oak tree. Does the oak tree that this acorn has the potential of becoming actually exist? Of course not! That almost goes without saying. Well, doesn’t it follow logically that being, considered in and of itself, is actual? There is no potency when we consider being per se. Inasmuch as there is potential, we are no longer considering being itself in an absolute sense. If you are considering as the first being, a being that has potency, e.g., the potential to be or not be, to move, grow, learn, etc., then you are no longer speaking of the first and necessary being. The first and necessary being would be by definition infinite being and in a category all by itself.

The Pantheism Problem

At this point an astute interlocutor will often say this sounds like pantheism. If being has to be actual without potency, then wouldn’t I then meet the definition of God as “pure act” and no potency? I exist, right? Even more, wouldn’t everything that exists then be “pure act?” Am I saying here that “everything is God?”

The answer is no, I’m not.

I can eliminate me and every other thing and being in the universe as being “God” precisely because everything we see has potency and is subject to change. Inasmuch as they are actual, all things and beings we encounter do exist, but they would not qualify to be the first and necessary being because they each possess both actuality, inasmuch as they exist, and potency, inasmuch as they have the “potential” to motion, growth, learning, etc. Thus, we can conclude that every “thing” we encounter in our universe participates in being, but none of these “things” qualify to be being itself. Being itself, or what St. Thomas would call the necessary being, would be infinite being, pure act, without even the possibility of either lack of any perfection or the slightest change. This is a basic definition of God.

May the Force be with You

“What a minute,” someone might object. “Even if I acknowledge there must be a first mover, a first cause or first being, we are a long way from saying there’s a God. Maybe this ‘first mover’ you speak about was a space alien from another Galaxy, or perhaps an impersonal force like we see in Star Wars. Further, if this ‘first mover’ is the cause of all motion, it would have to be in motion itself. You yourself quoted Newton who said every object in motion must be acted upon by another object itself in motion. Well, then, your so-called ‘first mover’ would have had to have been in motion; and therefore, placed in motion, anyway. You’ve answered nothing.”

Perhaps the problem here is we live in a culture that watches too many science fiction movies! To attempt to say the first mover was ET only moves the question back without really addressing the question at all. That’s a cop out! And remember, the “unmoved mover” cannot be in motion, because if it, or he, were in motion, it, or he, would not be the first mover; and therefore, it could not explain motion itself. The first mover cannot be in motion.

Expanding Motion

It might help at this point to expand our discussion of “the unmoved mover,” and what we mean by motion, and then we’ll move on to one final idea to consider.

When we speak of motion we are not only speaking of physical motion, but all motion. Let’s first consider the physical motion of inanimate objects once again. As I said before, in order for an object to be moved it must first have the potential or potency to motion. However, that potency only becomes actualized, or it only moves from potency to act when it is acted upon by another object that is already in motion, or in act. Now we want to consider this: the same could be said for spiritual or intellectual motion. In order for a rational being to come to know truth, he must be acted upon by a being who has already actualized that truth. The one who is to come to know truth must first have the potential to know and then that potency must be moved into actuality. This necessary, first “Unmoved Mover” of which we have been speaking, then, could not be just some inanimate object or “force.” It could not have any potency whatsoever with regard to intellectual motion, as well as physical motion. It would be necessarily both omnipresent and omniscient. We could add to the equation as well any potency with regard to power. Thus, it would also be omnipotent. Thus, we have, once again, demonstrated the Unmoved Mover to be omniscient, and therefore rational, as well as omnipresent and omnipotent. In fact, I think we are safe now to refer to “him” as “God,” because we have just given the classic definition of the term!

Thomas’s Fourth and Fifth

Thomas’s first three proofs for the existence of God seem the most compelling. In fact, St. Thomas considered his first proof the “most manifest” way of proving God’s existence. And I agree with him. But his fourth and fifth ways of demonstrating God’s existence seem easier to grasp by most people. I am going to combine them as one unified proof.

Here goes.

We see all around us in the universe things and beings possessing various levels of perfection they did not give to themselves that are ordered toward ends they did not devise themselves. There must of necessity be absolute and infinite perfection and order, or reason, in order to explain the existence of these levels of perfection and order. Indeed, I argue that any person who honestly investigates the nature of the material universe discovers mathematical precision and reason to the universe that necessarily means the first cause of this universe would have to be rational. Thus, we find yet another reason we can conclude God is not a force; “he” would be a person. Indeed, by revelation in Scripture and Tradition, we believe he is three persons. But we’ll leave that for another time, and another discussion!

The bottom line here is this: the incredible complexity and order we discover in nature demands not only an intelligent first cause, but a first cause who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

For many who come to the existence of God through reason there can be a tendency to reduce the God they discover to an impersonal force, or a deistic God that has nothing to do with us. To say this “God” actually “loves” us would be ludicrous.

In the New Testament, God has revealed himself to be love in the eternal relations subsisting within the inner life of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pour themselves out into one another in an infinite and singular act of love! But that requires accepting the gift of faith and believing in the revelation that our Lord communicated to us 2,000 years ago. Can we get at this God of love apart from that revelation?

Certainly, we cannot arrive at God as Trinity apart from revelation. And so, God as “love” revealed in a Trinitarian fashion is impossible without revelation. But I would argue there is a hint of God’s essence being love by examining what God has done in creation.

My final thought: Scientists tell us the “Big Bang” (creation) occurred ca. 13.7 billion years ago. If God created the universe 13.7 billion years ago, can’t we ask the question, why didn’t he do it 10 billion years ago? Why not 2 billion, 100 thousand or five years ago? The implication here is that God was “free” to create when he did. There is not reason to consider the creation as something the Creator had to do.

We can also ask the question, “Why?” Why would an infinite being create something that could not add anything to himself? He is infinite and perfect being!

What is the definition of “love?” St. Thomas Aquinas defines it as “willing the good of the other,” and I would add, “without expecting anything in return.” That is what love is. And that is precisely what God did in creating the universe. He created it for its sake without expecting anything in return. Seems like love to me.

I know we need revelation for this last, but if we add to this the Christian notion that God knew from all eternity not only that his creation could add nothing to him, but that one day his creation would kill him, this is a kind of love that is mind-blowing.

That’s for another time to consider.

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