Sunday, January 15, 2012

Point of contact

Bruce Charlton identifies six problems for modern Christian apologists, and proposes a solution.  His remarks are all interesting, but I want to focus on the first and most fundamental of the problems he identifies, which is that the metaphysical and moral knowledge that even pagans had in the ancient world can no longer be taken for granted:

Christianity is a much bigger jump from secular modernity than from paganism.  Christianity seemed like a completion of paganism - a step or two further in the same direction and building on what was already there: souls and their survival beyond death, the intrinsic nature of sin, the activities of invisible powers and so on.  With moderns there is nothing to build on (except perhaps childhood memories or alternative realities glimpsed through art and literature).

From this problem follow several others.  Bruce continues:

Modern Christianity as experienced by converts tends to be incomplete - precisely because modern Christianity has nothing to build on.  This means that modern incomplete Christianity lacks explanatory power, seems to have little or nothing to say about what seem to be the main problems of living.  For example, modern Christianity seems to have nothing to do with politics, law, art, philosophy or science; to inhabit a tiny, shrinking realm cut-off from daily concerns.

and

Modern Christianity often feels shallow - it seems to rely on diktat of scripture and the Church - this is because moderns lack a basis in the spontaneous perceptions of Natural Law, animism, the sense of active supernatural power in everyday life.  Modern Christianity (after the first flush of the conversion experience) thus feels dry, abstract, legalistic, prohibitive, uninvolving, lacking in purpose. 

As they say, read the whole thing.  There is, I think, much truth in what Bruce has to say.  To be sure, I don’t for a moment think (and I take it that Bruce doesn’t think) that Christianity really is in fact “shallow,” “incomplete,” “dry,” “lacking in purpose,” devoid of “explanatory power,” with “nothing to build on” by way of common ground with secular modernity, etc.  Quite the opposite.  But I agree that it can seem that way to many modern people.  (It more or less seemed that way to me in my atheist days, before I discovered what Christianity, and in particular Catholicism, actually said -- that is to say, what its greatest representatives have actually held historically, as contrasted with the distortions of Christianity, whether liberal or fundamentalist, that have replaced it in much of the public mind.)

The problem, in part, is one of historical and cultural circumstances.  Take a simple example, the Christian description of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  To modern people this sort of talk can sound unbearably mawkish; indeed, I sometimes find it unbearably mawkish, unless the context is such as to counteract the awful cultural associations that have come to surround it.  Hence, if I’m hearing a reference to Jesus as Lord or Savior in the context of the Mass (whether the extraordinary form or the ordinary form celebrated in a dignified way), it does not bother me at all; but if I hear it uttered by a televangelist, I feel (perhaps like a Dawkins or a Hitchens would) an irresistible urge to change the channel.  

Think, though, of the associations a word like “Lord” would have to someone in the ancient or medieval world -- it would bring to mind an emperor, or an aristocrat.  Think of what “Savior” would mean in a cultural context where ancient local communities were being swallowed up by ruthless and seemingly invincible empires, and where rigorist moral systems like Stoicism and Neo-Platonism competed for the allegiance of the intelligentsia -- that is to say, where people had an ongoing sense both of being in real physical jeopardy and of continual personal moral failure.   A description of Jesus of Nazareth as “Lord” and “Savior” would have the reverse of the sentimental and effeminate connotations secularists hear in it now -- it might bring to mind a stern Constantine riding to the rescue on horseback, say, rather than a Mister Rogers with long hair and sandals, ready with a smile and a Band Aid for your spiritual boo-boos.

Combine the egalitarian politics, easy morals, and relative affluence and social stability of recent decades, and few people in the modern secular world are looking for a Lord or Savior in a sense the ancients and medievals would have understood.  Add to that the fact that “Jesus is Lord!” has become the expression of a therapeutic, emotionalistic religiosity conveyed through mass-produced T-shirts, bumper stickers, and bad music, and the whole idea is bound to the modern secularist to seem unintelligible and repulsively tacky.  (Scratch a New Atheist and you’ll often find that this is the kind of stuff he’s reacting against, and all he’s ever known of Christianity.)

So that’s part of the problem.  But that can be remedied if proponents of a muscular and intellectually rigorous form of Christianity -- that is to say, of Christianity simpliciter, as it existed historically -- rediscover their ancient heritage.  For they will thereby rediscover too the heritage of the pagan world, and find in it the resources to communicate with modern man, indeed with any man.  Aristotelians and Neo-Platonists knew that God exists, they knew that man is not a purely material creature, and they knew that good and bad are objective features of the world and that reason directs us to pursue the good.  They knew these things through philosophical arguments which have lost none of their force, arguments which were picked up and refined by Christian thinkers and which informed the great Scholastic tradition.  

As Pope Leo XIII beautifully put it in Aeterni Patris, the intellectual treasures of the pagans are like the gold and silver vessels the Israelites took out of Egypt, ready for deployment in the service of the true religion.  Thus did the Scholasticism whose revival this encyclical fostered happily adopt whatever was of value in the thought of Greeks and Romans, Jews and Arabs.  With philosophy as with art, literature, and architecture, if you want to learn what the greatest non-Christians had to offer, come to the Church, which absorbs and protects it -- honoring our divinely given nature and its products even as she raises them higher through grace.  She reminds man of what he already knows, or can know, through his own powers, before revealing to him truths he could not arrive at under his own steam.  She speaks to him in his own language -- the language of natural theology and natural law, which are in principle accessible to all, and have no “sell by” date.  Even modern secularists know this language, for they are no less human than their pagan ancestors.  The problem is that they speak it at only a grade school or even kindergarten level, whereas the greatest of the ancients at least had high school level proficiency.  But through “remedial education” they, like the ancient pagans, can be prepared for the graduate level work afforded by divine revelation.

This is, of course, the idea of what Aquinas called the praeambula fidei -- the preambles of faith, by which philosophy opens the door for revelation (where faith and revelation, keep in mind, are when rightly understood in no way contrary to reason but build on it -- I have explained how in the first half of a previous post).  But this brings us to another problem.  Like the Pharisee who scorns the sincere piety and virtue of the Samaritan, some Christians scorn natural theology and natural law as impious or at least questionable.  They either despise human nature, and with it any non-Christian understanding of God and morality, as altogether corrupt and without value; or they are willing at least verbally to affirm that nature, but only if it is effectively absorbed into the order of grace, like the Monophysite who is willing to acknowledge Christ’s human nature only if it is first completely divinized.  On the former tendency, faith alone and scripture alone must suffice to bring one to Christianity, preambles be damned.  On the latter, human nature is conceived of in a way which (to borrow a phrase from Pope Pius XII) threatens to “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order” by taking the natural up into the supernatural, in effect treating natural theology and natural law as if only the Christian can understand them aright.  In both cases Christianity can come to seem a matter of mere diktat (as Bruce Charlton puts it) -- fideistic, inaccessible from and irrelevant to the world of the non-believer.

The first tendency, obviously, is associated with Luther and Calvin, though it is only fair to acknowledge that there are Protestants who have resisted it.  All the same, their resistance is itself often resisted by their coreligionists, as is illustrated by a famous dispute between the 20th century Protestant theologians Emil Brunner and Karl Barth.  Brunner argued that natural theology represents a “point of contact” between human nature and divine revelation, by which the former might be able to receive the latter (though even Brunner qualified his notion of “natural theology,” lest it imply the certainty of God’s existence through natural reason alone that is affirmed by Catholicism).  Barth responded angrily (in a work with the pithy title “No!”), rejecting any suggestion that human nature contributes something to the “encounter” between God and man and arguing that any needed “point of contact” was itself provided by revelation rather than human nature.  This is a little like saying that billiard ball A knocks into billiard ball B by hitting, not B’s surface, but a surface provided by A.  If intelligible at all, it only pushes the problem back a stage: How does the surface provided by A itself have any efficacy vis-√†-vis B?  And how does the “point of contact” provided by revelation itself make any contact with human nature?

It is also only fair to point out that some modern Catholic thinkers have taken views which at least flirt with the second tendency I described above -- though in part under the influence of Barth.  Hans Urs von Balthasar sought to meet Barth halfway by rejecting the conception of man’s natural state developed within the Thomistic tradition and central to the Neo-Scholasticism fostered by Leo’s Aeterni Patris (a conception which I described in a recent post on original sin).  On this traditional view, the natural end of human beings is to know God, but only in a limited way.  The intimate, “face to face” knowledge of the divine nature that constitutes the beatific vision is something we are not destined for by nature, but is an entirely supernatural gift made available to us only through Christ.  In place of this doctrine, Balthasar put the teaching of his fellow Nouvelle Th√©ologie proponent Henri de Lubac, who held that this supernatural end is something toward which we are ordered by nature.  Whether it is even coherent to maintain that a supernatural gift can be our natural end, and whether de Lubac’s teaching can ultimately be reconciled with the traditional Catholic doctrine of the “gratuity of the supernatural order” reasserted by Pius XII, have for several decades now been matters of fierce controversy.  But the apparent (even if unintended) implication of the position staked out by de Lubac and Balthasar is that there is no such thing as a human nature intelligible apart from grace and apart from Christian revelation.  And it is in that case hard to see how there could be a natural theology and natural law intelligible to someone not already convinced of the truth of that revelation.

Related to this is Etienne Gilson’s tendency to deemphasize the Aristotelian core of Aquinas’s system and to present it instead as a distinctively “Christian philosophy.”  As Ralph McInerny argued in Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, Gilson’s position, like de Lubac’s, threatens to undermine the traditional Thomistic view that philosophy must be clearly distinguished from theology and can arrive at knowledge of God apart from revelation.  Such views thereby “unwittingly [erode] the notion of praeambula fidei” and “lead us along paths that end in something akin to fideism” (p. ix).  

McInerny’s book, along with other recent works like Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God according to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters and Steven A. Long’s Natura Pura, mark a long-overdue recovery within mainstream Catholic thought of an understanding of nature and grace that was once common coin, and apart from which the possibility of natural theology and natural law cannot properly be understood.  Nor, I would say, can other crucial matters properly be understood apart from it (such as original sin, as I argue in the post linked to above).  The blurring of the natural and the supernatural may also lie behind a tendency in some contemporary Catholic writing to overemphasize the distinctively theological aspects of some moral issues.  For example, an exposition of traditional sexual morality that appeals primarily to the Book of Genesis, the analogy of Christ’s love for the Church, or the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity may seem more profound than an appeal to (say) the natural end of our sexual faculties.  But the result of such a lopsided theological emphasis is that to the non-believer, Catholic morality can (again to use Bruce Charlton’s words) falsely “seem to rely on diktat of scripture and the Church” and thus appeal only to the relatively “tiny, shrinking realm” of those willing to accept such diktat.  It will fail adequately to explain to those who do not already accept the biblical presuppositions of Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” or of a “covenant theology of human sexuality,” their merits notwithstanding, exactly how Catholic teaching is rationally grounded in human nature rather than in arbitrary divine or ecclesiastical command.  Grace doesn’t replace nature but builds on it; and an account which heavily emphasizes the former over the latter is bound to seem ungrounded.

The late pope himself realized this, whether or not all of his expositors do.  In Memory and Identity he says:

If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being [i.e. traditional metaphysics].  With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge.  Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality of the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is, being a creature.  If we do not set out from such “realist” presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum. (p. 12)

And in Chapter V of Fides et Ratio he warned:

There are also signs [today] of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God.  One currently widespread symptom of this fideistic tendency is a “biblicism” which tends to make the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth…

Other modes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn.  My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology.

And the Catechism promulgated by Pope John Paul II, citing Pius XII, affirmed that:

human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator… (par 37)

There is a reason why the first Vatican Council, while insisting that divine revelation teaches us things that cannot be known by natural reason alone, also taught that:

The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason…

and

Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things…

and

If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

and

If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men and women ought to be moved to faith only by each one's internal experience or private inspiration: let him be anathema.

and

If anyone says… that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the Christian religion be proved from them: let him be anathema.

The point of such anathemas is not to settle by fiat the question of whether God exists or whether miracles have actually occurred; obviously, a skeptic will be moved, if at all, only by being given actual arguments for these claims, not by the mere insistence that there are such arguments.  The anathemas are directed at the fideistic, subjectivist Christian who would dismiss the atheist’s demand that faith be given an objective, rational defense, and who thereby makes of Christianity a laughingstock.  Preaching Christianity to skeptics without first setting out the praeambula fidei, and then complaining when they don’t accept it, is like yelling in English at someone who only speaks Chinese, and then dismissing him as a fool when he doesn’t understand you.  In both cases, while there is certainly a fool in the picture, it isn’t the listener.

125 comments:

Maolsheachlann said...

My experience, and I think the experience of others, is that the cringe factor that our culture has inculcated into us regarding any serious talk of God is quickly replaced-- when you defy it-- by a kind of oppositional relish!

Crude said...

Excellent post, Ed. I'm glad to see you turning your guns onto what amounts to the cultural aspect of Christianity. This is where my deepest concerns lie, and I wish it was discussed more.

Crude said...

Preaching Christianity to skeptics without first setting out the praeambula fidei, and then complaining when they don’t accept it, is like yelling in English at someone who only speaks Chinese, and then dismissing him as a fool when he doesn’t understand you.

I will add, though, that there's a flipside to this: a lot, and I mean a lot, of Christians have a nasty habit of getting into drawn out arguments with skeptics who don't wish to discuss or learn anything - only to dictate, lecture or mock. I think you yourself have noted that the Cult of Gnu isn't worth taking seriously in an intellectual sense. Responses are necessary, but there's more ways to respond than dialogue and pretending a jackass deserves equal time.

I'll also note that the "Lord and Savior" line used to turn me off too, especially when rattled off bumpersticker-style. "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" It's a worth question, but man, it should be asked in a different way than what sounds like a telemarketer putting in the hours.

21th Century Scholastic said...

I couldn't agree more. Great post!

Will said...

Time to dust off our Garrigou-Langrange and get back to natural theology as the ground to build up a defense of Christianity (or the Thing as Belloc and Chesterton called it (Belloc went as far as to say there was no such thing as Christianity or Catholicism only the Thing, that is the Church)) as rooted in human reason. The Church faced the rationalist/fideist challenge in the 19th century as well, particularly in the German theologians. Of course the danger is trying to prove Christianity form first principles, which is impossible (unfortunately). Still, a nice bit of criticism of New Theology always settles well on the mind.

Anonymous said...

I think this is somewhat unfair to Karl Barth, who later modified his position on natural theology after his debate with Brunner.

Barth came to endorse a position closer to Balthasar's.

I also think you misconstrue Barth and Balthasar's position on nature/grace. I think it's fair to say that both believe that man has no purely natural end, indeed that our natural end is supernatural. However, this supernatural end is made possible by God's action in salvation history, not because of some inherent capacity of nature itself.

Think of it this way: you cannot start out with a concept of "nature" that has a definition or meaning apart from "grace". What "nature" is only comes into view in light of God's purposes for it.

Barth believes in natural teleology. He also believes that we can see "hints" or "reflections" of God's purposes within the natural order apart from revelation. But what nature really, really is--this must be seen in the human flesh of Jesus.

I don't think Barth is an adequate theologian for Catholics. But he cannot be dispensed with or ignored. He has no rival in modern Catholic thought.

curious said...

Anonymous,

I've been meaning to get an answer on this for some time from some advocate of Barth. For a Catholic with little experience in theology, could you explain what the point of Barth's work is? What truths did Barth discover?

DNW said...

Edward Feser writes,

"Related to this is Etienne Gilson’s tendency to deemphasize the Aristotelian core of Aquinas’s system and to present it instead as a distinctively “Christian philosophy.” As Ralph McInerny argued in Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, Gilson’s position, like de Lubac’s, threatens to undermine the traditional Thomistic view that philosophy must be clearly distinguished from theology and can arrive at knowledge of God apart from revelation. Such views thereby “unwittingly [erode] the notion of praeambula fidei” and “lead us along paths that end in something akin to fideism” (p. ix).


You're going to send me back to my bookshelf. I had thought I had understood Gilson to be arguing that granting certain presuppositions, it could make sense to speak of a distinctive Christian Philosophy.

However, I am not a Gilson expert. I merely had a few professors who had been students at the Institute in Toronto when he was there (which is how I heard of him in the first place), and I have a couple of his works on the shelves.

What impressed me about Gilson, though, was the relative lack of obscurantism and mawkishness in his writings, if, that is, you take the era and context into consideration.

After trudging through piles of late 19th century tomes, his manner seemed almost bracing in comparison.

Maybe, however, it's no more than the illusion you get of Maitland being a lively and refreshing writer, after you have first read Stubbs and Holdsworth.

And isn't Gilson after all, more an historian, than an outright philosopher?

(Ok, I just "cheated". http://www.uowc.org/gilson-society/biography-of-etienne-gilson%E2%80%99s-intellectual-life/

Apparently "Being and Some Philosophers" is considered ...)

Pattsce said...

This is one of your all-time best posts. I'd love to see more of this; it is too little talked about.

I would guess it is usually avoided because (1) "niceness" is the Only virtue in modern society and this comes off as "mean," and (2) you can't be a Catholic and say negative things about Christianity or Protestantism because then you're not being a "brother in Christ" or whatever.

I do think Christianity as a whole is in trouble because of the type of Christianity you identify here. I too often find myself siding with the people who mock Christianity (while doing my best to defend the tenets of actual value). This is actually a big problem with making and sustaining friends, as I end up becoming friends with atheists more often than with Christians. I am simply more similar and have more in common with atheists (at least with respect to this issue) than with Christians.

This is also quite a problem within Catholicism itself, which is often just as happy-clappy and effeminate as Protestantism. I've been able to find a mass that recognizes this, but it is Hardly the majority---and I live in a very large city. In fact, I'd wager I'm often the only person in there (by his own will) who is under 50 years old.

The modern, Christian world is very sick. And the worst part, I think, is that it can't really even begin to understand How it's so sick. So it puts up more JESUS IS LORD signs and thinks it'll all work out.

Thursday said...

Aristotelians and Neo-Platonists knew that God exists, they knew that man is not a purely material creature, and they knew that good and bad are objective features of the world and that reason directs us to pursue the good.

There may or may not be good purely intellectual arguments for the existence of God. Having read Feser's Aquinas book, the arguments for are surprisingly strong, thought perhaps not as definitive as he asserts.

But most people, ancient and medieval philosophers included, believed in God or the gods because they were intuitive supernaturalists, not because of rational argument.

That intuitive supernaturalism is gone, probably because for most people it never really gets turned on in a safe, predictable, prosperous, and comfortable environment. That is the dryness that Dr. Charlton is talking about. It is a psychological, not a philosophical problem.

So even the best arguments aren't going to do much if they don't resonate in people's gut. The best an apologist can do is clear out the dumb arguments that might prevent someone from embracing the faith.

Since people just are not as spontaneously religous as they once were, apologetics is unlikely to result in many conversions.

Mark Szlazak said...

He forgot to mention that Jesus did not arise bodily from the dead and at lot of writing afterwards in this regards was made up to win converts to competing sects. In other words, it's a religion founded on a lot of bullshit.

Ray Ingles said...

Thursday - "That intuitive supernaturalism is gone, probably because for most people it never really gets turned on in a safe, predictable, prosperous, and comfortable environment."

Well, I agree that 'intuitive supernaturalism' is rare these days in many places. To an extent, though, I disagree about the cause.

Over the long haul of history - though with definite acceleration in the last millennium or so - a whole lot of items have moved from the 'explained with recourse to the supernatural' column to the 'explained without recourse to the supernatural' column. And the flow has been entirely one-way.

Surely there's substantially less call to appeal to the supernatural these days?

I agree, though, that appeals to the supernatural rise in times of stress. I strongly suspect we account for that differently, though. For example, I note that stress is also associated with irrational thinking, too...

Tony said...

Although John Paul II may have expressed, in a few cases, some reservations in the idea of how man as such can only be understood as dependent on grace, he is far from free of complicity in the state of the question as represented by Gilson et al. He is well known for saying things like the nuptial meaning of the body cannot be understood but in reference to the relationship between Christ and the Church, and, indeed, in the love of the Trinity of which the Church is a symbol. Here is how one writer summarized it:

In his analysis of the creation accounts, John Paul II insists that a capacity for relationship with God is of the very essence of man. God’s invitation to a shared life is a gratuitous, unmerited gift to man who from the beginning was made capax Dei. In these reflections, John Paul II offers many insights about the nature of human identity, the manner in which man is distinguished from the rest of creation by the reality of human work, and the relational mode of his personal being which manifests itself on three levels – with God, with the world, and with others through a communion of love and self-giving.

And JPII was responsible for raising Balthasar to the cardinalate. Others, trying to follow in JPII's footsteps in this kind of thinking fail to manage it without repudiating human nature as a nature and this directly contradicts Aristotle and St. Thomas.

Although JPII perhaps manages to avoid this explicit rejection of human nature, it is extremely difficult to make JPII's thesis about man work harmoniously with St. Thomas - not with St. Thomas's conclusions about ethics, morality, the Church, etc - but with St. Thomas's order of proceeding, and his metaphysical approach that undergirds all the rest.

At root, the question is whether every natural creature in this world has a nature. If it does, then it has a natural end, and that natural end can be known in principle. If man's natural end is not expressible in terms of his nature, then he has no nature.

St. Thomas says that man's natural end is to know. (An intrinsic consequence is the intellectual appetite, to love; so everything that applies to knowing has a correlate in loving.) Ultimately, the desire to know is a desire which encompasses all that is capable of being known, including the most fundamental. Or, man desires to know being as such, not just this or that being. The highest knowledge, then, is knowing being without relation to limitations thereof. This is to know God.

The question is not whether we can know God naturally, but whether this knowledge is our 'natural end'. Knowing God as He is in Himself, as we will in the Beatific Vision, by all accounts requires elevating man's capacities above his natural level. So, if on the one hand we say that knowing God as He is in Himself is not within the natural end of man, we imply that man's natural desire to know (in principle) can be fulfilled without the Beatific Vision, which St. Thomas rejects. On the other hand, if we say that knowing God as He is in Himself is the natural end of man, then we say that man's nature cannot be understood except by reference to a power (which will be imparted to man) higher than man's nature. Paradox. Does St. Thomas solve it?

Thursday said...

Over the long haul of history - though with definite acceleration in the last millennium or so - a whole lot of items have moved from the 'explained with recourse to the supernatural' column to the 'explained without recourse to the supernatural' column.

Science and philosophy have had something to do with the loss of intuitive supernaturalism, especially among elites, but their effect has been a lot less than most intellectuals think. Most people don't give a rip about either of those things.

There is also some scientific work to suggest that intuitive supernaturalism is a byproduct of a system designed to detect threats. Almost non-existent threats = almost non-existent intuitive supernaturalism.

Tony said...

Almost non-existent threats = almost non-existent intuitive supernaturalism.

Thursday, that doesn't follow at all. If the "designed" was through evolutionary pressures over hundreds of thousands of years, it is just as likely that almost non-existent threats = some other end product being used in place of supernatural to absorb all the energy. Sort of like, some autoimmune diseases start because the body's defense mechanisms don't have enough outside threat to work on. Not enough threat doesn't translate into perfect health, it translates into haywire mechanisms.

Thursday said...

There is evidence that atheists tend to be on the autism spectrum, and as we know those on the spectrum may have trouble detecting agency even in a person who is right in front of them. So, most atheists aren't really coming to this through pure rational argument either, but through a bias against detecting agency in the world.

That doesn't mean they aren't correct, but it does mean that their conclusions typically aren't reached through purely rational means either.

Thursday said...

it is just as likely that almost non-existent threats = some other end product being used in place of supernatural to absorb all the energy

It doesn't seem to work that way.

The Deuce said...

Ed, excellent post,

This gives me opportunity to ask you, or anybody else on this board, a relevant personal question.

I'm married to a Japanese woman. She's a Christian, but her family isn't, and this really upsets her. We pray for them every day. I want to find some way to help witness to them, but I don't speak Japanese and I don't know where to begin.

My father-in-law is what I'd call "spiritual but not religious". I guess you'd say he believes in "God or whatever." He likes to go to the Buddhist temples and/or Shinto shrines, and he's enjoyed it the few times he's gone with us to a Japanese-speaking church when visiting us in the US, and even listened to a couple sermons from that church online after he went back to Japan. In any event, he seems to be spiritually open, at least.

My mother-in-law is less so. Technically she's an atheist, but she lacks anything like the stupid, ideological resentments of the New Atheists. Hers is more of a practically-minded thing. Her mother was actually Catholic, but she died when my mother-in-law was very young. Her father fell into depression and stopped working, which plunged the family into poverty, forcing her to go around the neighborhood with her siblings and beg for rice to keep themselves going. Her attitude is basically, "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and kept myself alive by my own practical effort, without God's help, so what use is he?"

After reading TLS, and now being in the midst of Aquinas, I believe that the point Ed makes in this post is correct. The observations that Aristotleans and Neo-Platonists made are a point of common ground between Christians and pagans. Even the pagan who doesn't know Aristotle knows the basic things that Aristotle knew, even if not in a rigorous philosophical form, and indeed the only way for a person to *not* know them is to deliberately rationalize them away as the nominalists, conceptualists, Humeans, New Atheists (yes, I realize I'm repeating myself), etc do, and in Western culture the primary driving force for that rationalization is (as Ed documented in TLS) ideological reaction against Christianity and certainty about God. One advantage of Japan is the relative lack of that particular driving force. They're simply ignorant of Christianity rather than reacting against it.

While I was reading TLS and Aquinas, the thought occurred to me how much I wished there were Japanese translations of these books, something that could communicate Aquinas's arguments for God and his divine attributes in an accessible way to the (specifically Japanese) layman (particularly for my mother-in-law), and then something to preferably build on that to the truths of Christianity and the reality and meaning of the resurrection in particular.

I don't know if it'll do any good or not, but I feel obligated to try. Like I said, most Japanese simply don't know anything about Christianity (they celebrate Christmas, for instance, but almost all of them genuinely think it was created to celebrate Santa Claus), so there's a huge need here beyond just my parents-in-law. So, anybody have any book recommendations or other ideas?

Thursday said...

I am not implying that most atheists have full blown autism, just that they tend to be farther along on the spectrum.

Fundamentalists who need to prove God's existence using external evidence and philosophers who believe in God primarily because of rational proofs may have a lot more in common with atheists than they may want to admit. They also probably tend to be a bit further along on the autism spectrum than the average person.

But the average believer believes because God is there, not because of any arguments.

Thursday said...

This tends to put the dispute between the nominalists and the essentialists in some perspective.

The nominalists were right to say that pragmatically faith is based on intuition, though they wouldn't have used that terminology. The error of the nominalists was to presume that that intuitive supernaturalism was always going to be there.

The error of (at least modern) essentialists is to assume that argument, even good argument, can take the place of intuitive supernaturalism in motivating people to believe. A faith based primarily on reason is going to be pretty dry, if it is going to exist at all.

SR said...

@Thursday,

But most people, ancient and medieval philosophers included, believed in God or the gods because they were intuitive supernaturalists, not because of rational argument.

That intuitive supernaturalism is gone,...


You might be interested in the thesis of Owen Barfield that there is more to this observation than just intuition. He claims that within historical time, an acquaintance with the supernatural has gradually disappeared. See here for a somewhat longer overview. I end that with the following:

In my opinion, religious philosophy/theology that does not take this change in human consciousness into account is going nowhere. It will either replace the wisdom of the ancients and medieval thinkers with modernist idolatry (what I call "materialism plus God"), or replace it with postmodern negativity, or attempt to reconstitute that ancient/medieval wisdom without acknowledging that it no longer works as it used to.

Ray Ingles said...

Thursday - "There is evidence that atheists tend to be on the autism spectrum, and as we know those on the spectrum may have trouble detecting agency even in a person who is right in front of them."

On the other hand, autism is a spectrum, with quite a wide scope of manifestations. There's also evidence that humans generally have a tendency to perceive agency where none obtains.

So it's possible that going a bit of the way along the autism spectrum winds up canceling out two opposite kinds of errors. They might have neither "a bias against detecting agency in the world" nor a bias toward it.

As C.S. Lewis said about "Bulverism", "You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong..." :)

Thursday said...

it's possible that going a bit of the way along the autism spectrum winds up canceling out two opposite kinds of errors

Yes, this is possible, but it is not typical.

From listening to the bad reasoning I typically hear from atheists, and which Feser routinely exposes here, most of them are making these decisions based on intuition, just like most theists.

Thursday said...

"You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong..."

I never said they were wrong.

Ray Ingles said...

Thursday - "I never said they were wrong."

I know, hence the smiley.

some kant said...

Given how essential a normal perception of agency is for social interaction, social cognition and even moral judgement, and given how disabling (and disheartening for close relatives) the conditions that affect these faculties tend to be, I'd be careful to qualify even the mildest bit of Asperger's (e.g. see here) as a desirable thing, simply because it relieves those who suffer from it of those nasty "God did it" thoughts.

We couldn't teach our cousin how to dance. So don't even suggest it.

DNW said...

Thursday said...

" I am not implying that most atheists have full blown autism, just that they tend to be farther along on the spectrum.

Fundamentalists who need to prove God's existence using external evidence and philosophers who believe in God primarily because of rational proofs may have a lot more in common with atheists than they may want to admit. They also probably tend to be a bit further along on the autism spectrum than the average person.

But the average believer believes because God is there, not because of any arguments.

January 16, 2012 11:32 AM"



Looked at it from an autistic atheist's own perspective; say, from the perspective of one of the sort that doesn't believe in the reality of natural kinds, nor in the real intelligibility of nature anyway, there is nothing for them to see as particularly dysfunctional to their autism: just as long as they have recourse to a tolerant normal human community which they can employ as an ecological niche.

Sort of like the mythic Cheeto-devouring Mountain Dew swilling, basement dwelling fat boy trolls mocked occasionally on this blog by other writers. They may not be able to hoe their own row in the real world, nor find allies any better than themselves, should technological-collapse-push come to survival-shove, but as long as they have Mom's basement (or a place in the department of some tax supported institution) and the electricty never goes off, their epiphenomenal status shouldn't trouble them any.

Churchill is widely attributed with the following quote: "Cultured people are merely the glittering scum which floats upon the deep river of production". With the proviso that they neither glitter nor impress, something of the same could be said of the autistic troll relative to the flow of serious discussion and inquiry; or even, taken to a conceptual extreme, the community of man.

DNW said...

some kant said...

Given how essential a normal perception of agency is for social interaction, social cognition and even moral judgement, and given how disabling (and disheartening for close relatives) the conditions that affect these faculties tend to be, I'd be careful to qualify even the mildest bit of Asperger's (e.g. see here) as a desirable thing, simply because it relieves those who suffer from it of those nasty "God did it" thoughts.

We couldn't teach our cousin how to dance. So don't even suggest it.

January 16, 2012 1:35 PM

Your illustration points to the difficulties inherent in taking an anti-teleological philosophy seriously ... unless the anti-teleologist is willing also to outright embrace a Rosenbergian nihilism and acknowledge its redounding implications as well.

Ray Ingles said...

some kant - "I'd be careful to qualify even the mildest bit of Asperger's (e.g. see here) as a desirable thing, simply because it relieves those who suffer from it of those nasty "God did it" thoughts."

You'll note that I didn't do that. And, yes, as the parent of child with Asperger's Syndrome, I'm familiar with at least some of the challenges involved.

But even a trait that's overall 'bad' can have advantages. Albinos may have to worry about skin cancer, but they don't have to worry about Rickets.

My quote about Bulverism was deliberate. (Though qualified as Thursday emphasized "That doesn't mean they aren't correct".) His point is only compelling if one accepts that atheism is categorically wrong. This is the audience for that, no doubt, but it must established on grounds other than autism.

Crude said...

The main, and only, point that I see Thursday offering up is that - despite all the arguments - at the end of the day, it seems that what moves many (most?) people to accept or reject God isn't science, good arguments, evidence or reason. My anecdotal experience is that this is on target - even (especially) for people who yell, repeatedly and loudly, about the importance of reason and science and so on. The Cult of Reason wasn't very reasonable, despite the name.

That said, I also think Ed's largely on target with what he's saying - namely, that the content matters. There really is a serious gulf of difference between talk of God as the first cause, the prime mover, teleology, natural law, and a classical understanding of Christ versus 'Jesus is my homie / whatever'.

Brian said...

This may be off-topic, but I have been trying to find the answers to some questions I have been having about faith. If anyone can recommend any books to help answers these questions, I would appreciate it:

1) How does baptism relate to faith?

2) Can an unbaptized (i.e., blood, desire, or water) person have faith?

3) If faith presupposes the use of reason to see the truth of the praeambula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, what about infant baptism? Infants have no reasoning ability, yet baptism gives them the virtue of faith somehow.

4) Once a baptized infant reaches the age of reason, then what? Does he have to make an act of faith after seeing the truth of Catholicism? What happens in the mean time to his faith until he has that intellectual vision?

5) Suppose this same person is like thousands of other Catholics - he receives no religious education and becomes, essentially, a secularist. Is this person an apostate? For he abandoned a faith that he, apparently, truly had because of his baptism.

6) Since not everyone has the time or intellectual ability to grasp the truth of the praembula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, how are they supposed to come to faith?

7) Let's say a person, say, a Catholic, professes faith for pretty lousy reasons. For irrational reasons. Does this person have authentic, theological faith? In other words, can the assent of faith be made with irrational motives?

8)What is the relationship between doubt and faith? If a person doubts, does that person have faith? My reading of Newman in his essay "Faith and Doubt" seems to say that doubt in the mind of a Catholic can only mean that 1) he never had faith 2) he is pretending to doubt and sinning against his faith.

9) What happens if a person, in his own mind, honestly denies the faith? He, at one time, supposedly saw the truth of the praeambula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, how can he now deny them? Did he ever have faith?

10) What is the relationship between mortal sin and faith?

And the answers to these question can easily spawn other questions. If anyone would like tackle one, please do. And again, book recommendations would be appreciated.

Daniel Smith said...

Edward: "Like the Pharisee who scorns the sincere piety and virtue of the Samaritan, some Christians scorn natural theology and natural law as impious or at least questionable."

It's interesting that you use that analogy because I've often used it in the opposite way: the Pharisee being analogous to the more learned, philosophically adept, rigorous theologian and the Samaritan to the "gut level" Christian with no real knowledge of these things but just an innate understanding that he is a sinner and that he needs God.

I think we have lost a profound reverence of the supernatural, but I think much of that is due to a perceived "knowledge" that supersedes ancient "superstitions". While much of the pagan world was based on superstition, there was an underlying spiritual reality to these things that has been discarded when science stepped in and "explained" things.

One thing that always strikes me is the number of demons Jesus cast out of people. Today, we don't believe in demons. We have explained the chemical imbalances, etc. that cause so-called "demon possession". But then, why did Jesus cast out so many devils? Perhaps our "knowledge" is blinding us to an underlying spiritual truth that the ancient world really did understand!

Crude said...

Daniel Smith,

there was an underlying spiritual reality to these things that has been discarded when science stepped in and "explained" things.

I agree with where you're going with this, I think, though I disagree about science having stepped in and "explained" things in most of the relevant cases. Very often it's not a case of science having explained anything, but an attitude that someone may say or even think is 'scientific', but really is just parroting what they heard or think others understand.

I've run into too many people who will appeal to "science" as explaining or ruling out one thing or another, but when pressed it's clear they haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about. (There are a lot of people who will lecture others on evolution showing this or that, but if you press them you find out they can't even coherently sum up natural selection.)

Tony said...

Brian, I won't attempt a full answer, but just a bare start: an adult convert usually has faith of a sort before he is baptized. It may not be motivated by supernatural adherence to the Truth as revealed by God, though.

Babies baptized have faith as a theological virtue - a habit - which is latent until they understand the propositions of the faith, and presumably are given a credible basis for adhering to them.

Doubt is not just an uncertainty about HOW a de fide truth is true, or "problem". Doubt is an active, willful stepping away from certainty THAT it is true, and is therefore a sin against faith. No baptized person who, as an adult, consciously adhered to the truths of the faith, can "honestly denies the faith," because there is no honesty in rejecting the revelation of God (a gift in grace) in favor of lesser evidence. But a person CAN reject his faith: God's grace does not take away free will, and a person CAN stop cooperating with grace at any time and reject His help. (In point of practice, virtually everyone who adheres to the Truth in faith, and then rejects it, does so because of prior sins - often sins of the flesh - clouding the intellect, weakening the will, and strengthening the disorders of the appetites. So there are almost always prior sins that disposed him to "losing" his faith, and he is not an innocent victim of some smarter person's "argument". Most people who turn away do so because they don't _want_ the faith to be true.)

Brian said...

I appreciate the attempt, Tony. Do you have any book recommendations? Hopefully others will chime in.

Anonymous said...

Thursday said: "That intuitive supernaturalism is gone, probably because for most people it never really gets turned on in a safe, predictable, prosperous, and comfortable environment."

And in that regard I can see the correlation with Western Europe and America on the one hand and Eastern Europe on the other. In Eastern Europe, most people have more intimate knowledge of suffering on the societal level (Russian Revolution and Civil War, WW1 with people from the same nationality on both sides of the conflict killing each other, Polish-Soviet War with associated atrocities, Soviet atrocities in Ukraine, Russia, The Baltic Republics, Poland; German WW2 atrocities, post war atrocities of the numerous atheist Workers' Parties which were at least as brutal as Hitler especially in the early post war years, etc.) The Church also sided with the common people and stood on the side of freedom. Most Eastern European atheists I know are atheists because Papa or Mamma was in the Party and Lenin was some sort of hero. Ordinary people including most intellectuals (those who were not culled by Nazis and Soviets), were not like this, at least not the scientists, engineers and doctors I know.

bgc said...

Dear Ed - thanks for covering my posting. For me, this is perhaps the main topic. It took me *such* a long time to become a Christian (I was nearly fifty), I figure I may have some insights into the barriers.

Michael said...

Brian,

I will try to answer your questions with citations from the Summa; this is only my own understanding, potentially erroneous on a number of points, so I welcome any corrections from those more knowledgeable. I will have to split this into a few posts to fit it all:

1. (How does baptism relate to faith?)

1. In the case of infants, Baptism infuses the supernatural virtue of faith (together with hope, charity, and sanctifying grace) (ST III, q. 69, a. 6 and ad 1; q. 68, a. 9, ad 3). For adults, St. Thomas teaches that faith is required prior to receiving Baptism in order to receive the grace of Baptism, but a man having the use of reason who does not believe can still receive the character of Baptism, although he receives no grace and commits sacrilege because of his unbelief (ST III, q. 68, a. 8)


2. (Can an unbaptized (i.e., blood, desire, or water) person have faith?)

2. A person can have supernatural faith before being sacramentally baptized with water (martyrdom and the desire of Baptism are not Sacraments). Cornelius the Centurion, for instance, must have had Faith, since, as St. Thomas says, his works were acceptable to God (Acts of the Apostles 10:4; ST II-II, q. 10, a. 4 and ad 3), yet without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). However, he had not yet been baptized, which means that he had faith before receiving Baptism (Acts 10:47-8; ST III, q. 69, a. 4, ad 2).


3. (If faith presupposes the use of reason to see the truth of the praeambula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, what about infant baptism? Infants have no reasoning ability, yet baptism gives them the virtue of faith somehow.)

3. Infants have the habit or virtue of faith, which gives them a facility for making acts of faith once they reach the age of reason, and therefore having the virtue of faith does not presuppose having the use of reason (ST III, q. 69, a. 6). Someone can possess the virtue without being able to make the acts corresponding to the virtue, as any baptized person without the use of reason possesses the three theological virtues. Understanding the preambula fidei might rather help dispose an adult prospective convert for receiving the gift of faith (the grace of God, of course, being needed even to dispose us for grace, since we can do no supernaturally meritorious work without God; cf. John 15:5), but it is not necessary to understand the preambulae to possess the virtue or habit.


4. (Once a baptized infant reaches the age of reason, then what? Does he have to make an act of faith after seeing the truth of Catholicism? What happens in the mean time to his faith until he has that intellectual vision?)

4. Yes, I believe that St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches that making acts of faith, hope, and charity becomes binding on a Catholic when he reaches the age of reason (also ST II-II, q. 3, a. 2). It is precisely the virtue of faith which enables us to see the truth of Catholicism; I think St. Thomas calls faith the first purification of the intellect, since it helps dispel blindness of mind. Ignorance, after all, is one of the effects of Original Sin. Before reaching the age of reason a Catholic possesses the habit but cannot make the intellectual or volitional acts needed to act virtuously, since acts of virtue (activity in accordance with reason) presuppose the use of reason.

Michael said...

5. Apostasy, if I recall, is the complete repudiation of the Christian faith. St. Pius V condemned the proposition of Baius that negative infidelity is a sin (negative infidelity meaning, in essence, inculpable ignorance of the faith, as opposed to positive rejection of truths of the faith). Someone who commits a formal act of heresy loses the faith, but it not possible to do this without a blameworthy fault on the part of the person involved (see answer to #9 below). Keep in mind that simply because someone grows up ignorant/secularist does not necessarily excuse him from blame; not all ignorance is invincible ignorance. St. Peter reproached the Jews for crucifying Christ; he said they did it in ignorance, but their ignorance was blameworthy, since they had seen Christ work miracles before their very eyes (cf. Acts 3:17). Now in the case of a Catholic raised secularist, he still has the use of reason, and therefore he still ought to be concerned about such things as the purpose of his existence, why he was created, how he relates to God, what will become of his soul, etc. At what point he becomes personally culpable for failing in these duties we must leave to God, Who knows the hearts of men, but we can safely say that someone having the use of reason who never at all expresses the slightest interest in knowing about God, his soul, Heaven, Hell, truth, etc. surely cannot be forever blameless for his gross indifference about the most fundamental questions of human existence. St. Thomas explains what happens to a similar case when an unbaptized non-Catholic reaches the age of reason: "...when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do." (I-II, q. 89, a. 6).

St. Thomas also has a reply to the hypothetical case of an invincibly ignorant person raised by wolves or living in the forest (see De Veritate, q. 14, a. 11, obj. 1). He states, if I recall, that no man having the use of reason can be invincibly ignorant of the natural law, and therefore if a man living off in the forest who has never heard of Christ follows the natural law and corresponds with the graces God sends him, since God wills all man to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), God in His mercy will find a way to enlighten that man with the true Faith, whether by illuminating his intellect, sending him a preacher, or even, if necessary, sending him an angel from Heaven, as He did for the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) and Cornelius (Acts 10). I seem to recall that St. Thomas says that we must certainly hold that God will not lead a man perish eternally through no fault of his own (and yet without supernatural faith a man will inevitably perish eternally). In other words, the invincibly ignorant apparently will not be invincibly ignorant forever, but at some point, if they place no obstacles, God will provide for them to remove their ignorance, or else their ignorance will no longer be invincible.

Michael said...

6. (Since not everyone has the time or intellectual ability to grasp the truth of the praembula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, how are they supposed to come to faith?)

6. People are not bound to study the preambulae; St. Thomas himself says that it was fitting for God to reveal the preambulae anyway, although they are knowable by reason, since without this revelation, only a few people could know them (those sufficiently intelligent, with enough leisure for study, etc.), only after a long time of study and preparation, and even then, divine revelation gives us certitude, whereas philosophers using only natural reason can make errors (SCG I, c. 4; ST II-II, q. 2, a. 4).


7. (Let's say a person, say, a Catholic, professes faith for pretty lousy reasons. For irrational reasons. Does this person have authentic, theological faith? In other words, can the assent of faith be made with irrational motives?)

7. Faith is a theological and supernatural virtue which consists in the assent of our intellect (commanded by the will, assisted by divine grace) to divinely revealed truth, not, as Vatican I says, because the revealed truth is obvious to the natural light of reason, but rather, because of the authority of God Who reveals. Therefore, it seems that the sine qua non motive which must underlie a truly supernatural faith is acceptance of divine authority, not a rigorous understanding of dogmatic theology and apologetics. The formal motive of faith is the authority of God revealing, and believing because God has revealed it is certainly not an irrational motive, but rather an eminently reasonable one. Even if one of the simple and unlettered faithful would be unable to intelligently describe the motives for his faith, that would not necessarily mean he doesn't have the faith.


8. (What is the relationship between doubt and faith? If a person doubts, does that person have faith? My reading of Newman in his essay "Faith and Doubt" seems to say that doubt in the mind of a Catholic can only mean that 1) he never had faith 2) he is pretending to doubt and sinning against his faith.)

8. The Roman Catechism of Trent says, if I recall, that faith excludes doubt, the latter of which is a sin against faith. Faith, as noted, is the virtue by which we assent to divinely revealed truth because God, Who is infinitely truthful, has revealed it. It is fundamentally irrational (and blasphemous) for a man to doubt whether the infinitely truthful Being is telling him the truth. So certainly doubts against faith which involve sufficient knowledge and full consent of the will are mortally sinful. As denial of the faith causes the virtue of faith to be lost, so, if I remember the Tridentine Catechism's phrase correctly, are doubt and faith mutually exclusive, since someone who doubts whether God is truthful cannot make an act of faith whose formal motive is the divine truthfulness. Faith is a firm adherence to divinely revealed truth, whereas one who doubts hesitates, which seems incompatible with firm assent (ST II-II, q. 1, a. 4).

Michael said...

9. (What happens if a person, in his own mind, honestly denies the faith? He, at one time, supposedly saw the truth of the praeambula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis, how can he now deny them? Did he ever have faith?)

9. It is not possible to "honestly" deny the faith, if you mean that someone could, without serious sin, once possess the faith and then lose it. We cannot lose a supernatural virtue except by willfully committing mortal sin. There is no possibility of "accidentally" losing the Faith; it must be thrown away by a formal act of sin. Further, the preambulae fidei are distinct from the articles of faith; that is why they are called preambulae. It does not seem to necessarily be the case that someone who gets tangled up in confusion in the complex metaphysical arguments for God's existence thereby necessarily loses the Faith, if he simply throws up his hands at his inability to understand, since lack of philosophical acumen is certainly not incompatible with supernatural faith. But if he were to deny that God's existence can be known by arguments from reason, he certainly sins, since the First Vatican Council taught infallibly that God's existence can be certainly known with the natural light of reason.

As for ever having had faith, I think it is one or more of the Protestant sects which erroneously stated that someone who later sins was never a real Christian in the first place, so no, it is not true to say that someone who loses his faith must never have had it at all. It is certainly possible to really possess the faith and then lose it by an act of formal heresy.


10. (What is the relationship between mortal sin and faith?)

10. Some mortal sins can co-exist with faith. Mortal sin always destroys the supernatural virtue of charity. Mortal sins against hope (like despair) destroy not only charity but also hope. But these first two types of mortal sins can co-exist with faith; a man can commit murder or adultery, for instance, or despair, yet remain a believer who possesses the faith (ST II-II, q. 24, a. 12, obj. 5 and ad 5). But his faith will be what St. Thomas calls "lifeless" faith, since it lacks the vivifying influence of supernatural charity. Further, there are certain mortal sins (particularly those against chastity) which, although they do not destroy faith by themselves, can place a man in grave danger of eventually losing his faith. There is a saying that in man there is a little of the angel and a little of the beast. We have intelligence, like angels, but a body, like the beasts. If I recall the explanation correctly, lust tends to drag man down to the mire, so to speak, and render him like to a beast, clouding his mind and putting him in danger of losing the virtue of faith, which is a virtue involving the assent of our intellect. Lust also tends to cause people to hate God and spiritual things (ST II-II, q, 153, a. 5), which is, of course, an interesting point relative to the modern world, insofar as modern pagan America, on the one hand, sees unspeakable levels of sins against chastity of every sort, and on the other hand, widespread intense hatred of God and spiritual things, especially the Catholic religion. The lustful man has lost control of his appetites and cannot bear any restriction placed upon them, which is why many worldlings particularly hate the Catholic Church, the only religion which uniformly condemns all carnal vices (contraception, pornography, unnatural vice, etc.).

Michael said...

Finally, in addition to St. Thomas's Summa (II-II, qq. 1-16; III, qq. 66-9), you might also benefit from these books (I think these are out of copyright, at least in the eastern United States; other states and countries might have different rules):

1. The Theology of Faith, by Fr. P. McKenna, O.P. (http://www.archive.org/details/thetheologyoffai00mckeuoft)
2. What Faith Really Means, by Fr. Henry Grey Graham (http://www.archive.org/details/whatfaithreallym00grahiala)
3. Faith, Archbishop Emmanuel Martin de Gibergues (http://www.archive.org/details/faithgib00degiuoft)



May God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Smith: "One thing that always strikes me is the number of demons Jesus cast out of people. Today, we don't believe in demons."

On at least one occasion the demons were cast out of a man and sent into a herd of wild pigs which subsequently ran off of a cliff.

No chemical imbalance or loss of neurons causes that.

E.H. Munro said...

"On at least one occasion the demons were cast out of a man and sent into a herd of wild pigs which subsequently ran off of a cliff.

No chemical imbalance or loss of neurons causes that."

You clearly haven't ever visited a G-8 protest. ;-7

The Deuce said...

I really don't buy the "intuitive supernaturalism is caused by people misattributing agency to natural causes" thing. If you start with the assumption that there is no God, it's probably one of the less implausible explanations you can come up with, but it still has serious problems and I don't assume that. One problem I see with it is that it requires that people already have a concept of agency that implies supernaturalism, even if they misattribute it directly to secondary causes in specific cases. I do agree that people sometimes attribute agency to things that don't have it, or fail to attribute it to things that do, but that's about it. Of course, people can misattribute any particular kind of cause, but I don't believe this casts doubt on the perception of causation generally.

I also don't think that people in our wealthy culture have lost the intuitive sense of the supernatural. As others have pointed out, we're seeing the rise of a sort of therapeutic, self-absorbed deism/pantheism rather than materialistic atheism.

I *do* think that hardship tends to cause people to turn to real religion that makes demands on them rather than the therapeutic variety, but I don't consider this to be in any way irrational. An abundance of wealth causes people to focus on the here and now, and getting more and more toys to entertain themselves with, not thinking about consequences. It creates an illusion of self-sufficiency, and causes people to forget that they're still going to die just like everyone else, that all they have will be nothing, and that their situation has not substantially changed from those in ages past. As our economic bubble and financial collapse have demonstrated, there is nothing rational or realistic about this outlook.

Hardship snaps people out of this, and brings them back down to earth, reorienting them to think about what a thinking person *should* be focused on: the future consequences of their actions in this world, particularly the effect of their actions on future generations after they're gone, and most importantly the hereafter and their eternal status in it.

Btw, I don't want to jump into the debate over atheism and autism, but I thought I'd point out that where autists are concerned, the problem, as I understand it, appears to be not just that they fail to attribute agency to agents, but that they have an impaired ability for the self-reflection necessary to be fully and consistently aware of their own agency, resulting them often having difficulty grasping the concept of agency altogether.

some kant said...

Ray --

You'll note that I didn't do that. And, yes, as the parent of child with Asperger's Syndrome, I'm familiar with at least some of the challenges involved.

Yes, which is why I refrained from saying you claimed so. I am familiar with the challenges you mention, since my cousin, who grep up very close to me, has a mild case of Asperger's.

But even a trait that's overall 'bad' can have advantages. Albinos may have to worry about skin cancer, but they don't have to worry about Rickets.

Agreed, and people with Asperger's tend to be very successful in academic environments and technical fields. Though I believe they can do well in general -- my cousin, despite his amazing mathematical abilities, decided to study Bio Eng and became a successful farmer.

My quote about Bulverism was deliberate. (Though qualified as Thursday emphasized "That doesn't mean they aren't correct".) His point is only compelling if one accepts that atheism is categorically wrong. This is the audience for that, no doubt, but it must established on grounds other than autism.

I agree with this. The veracity of a position is independent (in a strictly logical sense) of the character or psychological profile of those who hold it. Plus, I have never been a fan of the "aspie atheist" canard, given that my cousin is a sincere man of faith, just as many others who are afflicted by this condition.

X-Cathedra said...

It might be worthwhile to look at Erich Przywara on this issue. He's simply not read enough these days, especially in North America. I find him more subtle on the nature-grace relation than de Lubac or even Balthasar. His (rather idiosyncratic) account of the analogia entis seems designed to account for the concerns of both nouvelle theologie types and Thomist natural theology. Especially in light of his dialogue with Barth, one can see the stress on the capax Dei as a structural feature of human nature as such, since that is precisely what Barth found so unacceptable (even demonic) about it. Then again, he argues that the analogia is genuinely "completed" (in some sense) only in the order of grace, ala gratia non destruit, sed supponit et perficit naturam.

The entire issue seems to redound upon the interpretation of that famously Catholic principle: how to maintain the "presupposes" (the enduring integrity of nature in precision from grace) AND affirm some sense of "perfects" that does not result in extrinsicism (the boogeymen for basically that entire generation of post-manualist Catholic theologians; whether accurately ascribed to Cajetan and the commentator tradition or not).

Pax Christi

some kant said...

Deuce --

I really don't buy the "intuitive supernaturalism is caused by people misattributing agency to natural causes" thing.

Me neither, and I also don't buy the historical interpretation of this idea; In his book A Secular Age, Charles Taylor spends a good amount of space analizing this belief, which he calls the "subtraction story."

The subtraction story is the narrative that modern empirical science has offered naturalistic explanations for phenomena that directly affect our experience, and that has made religion unnecessary so people have abandoned it. Taylor rejects it out of being overly simplistic, and offers a detailed historical account of the many different factors that led to the rise of the contemporary secularism, coupled with a discussion of the sociology of Weber and Durkheim.

Thursday said...

I have never been a fan of the "aspie atheist" canard, given that my cousin is a sincere man of faith, just as many others who are afflicted by this condition.

Its not a canard:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/09/what-atheism-and-autism-may-have-in-common/
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/09/atheism-as-mental-deviance/
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2009/09/religion-cognitive-neuroscience/

There are autistic people who are believers, but the content of their beliefs is often radically different from that of the average believer.

MMc said...

To the person who lives in a city and is looking for a "muscular Catholicism.".: go where they say the Tridentine Mass in your city.. There usually is one.. Or if in NYC (Brooklyn) or LA try the Coptic Catholic Church.. Beautiful liturgy..

Daniel Smith said...

Crude: "I agree with where you're going with this, I think, though I disagree about science having stepped in and "explained" things in most of the relevant cases. Very often it's not a case of science having explained anything, but an attitude that someone may say or even think is 'scientific', but really is just parroting what they heard or think others understand."

I agree. I too don't think science explains as much as it is given credit for. In my opinion, scientists often explain how something works but rarely explain why. They are also pretty inept at explaining where things came from - mostly due to the philosophical limitations they impose on themselves.

The big problem is that many atheists think that explaining how something works somehow magically covers all the other bases.

Daniel Smith said...

I have to apologize for my haste in my original post. I somehow misconstrued Ed's "Pharisee and Samaritan" into Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (resulting in a mid-night "doh!")

I'm not sure what Ed was referring to by his "Pharisee and Samaritan" analogy (perhaps the "good Samaritan"?) but I was referring to the Pharisee and the tax collector in mine.

Richard said...

I would have to say that one of my main frustrations has been seeing the neo-pagan movement largely deny their classical heritage for fear of a transcendant God, a concept that they feel leads to the abandonment and degradation of the natural world. I am heartened by seeing them take up some of the ideas of process theology, but I fear that they will still largley stay away from a rigorous philosophy for fear of developing an exclusionary doctrine that will put off other more free spirited pagans. There is a lot of unmined history out there for them to partake in, such as Proclus or Iamblichus, that is left to languish in the dust of time.

some kant said...

I don't know, I've never met a serious neo-pagan. Most of them are either D&D role playing nerds or white nationalists.

I'm not trolling.

Richard said...

I like the "I'm not trolling." remark. If you want serious neo-pagans, look to T. Thorn Coyle, John Michael Greer, or Brendan Myers. John Michael Greer, one of the few neo-platonists in the neo-pagan mix, is an absolutley smashing writer and independent intellectual, and I recommend him with absolutley no reservations.

Brian said...

Thanks for all that you have written, Michael! I would have replied sooner, but I had to work! I will definitely read the books you have recommended. Since this blog post does not directly deal with my questions, I shall leave it there. Hopefully, we can discuss them some other time.

Pattsce said...

Some Kant,

Not gonna lie; it confuses me that you changed your name. You Are formerly man with a computer, right? When did I miss this switch.

Brandon said...

I second Richard's recommendations of John Michael Greer if you are interested in serious neopagan thought. I'm not sure I would call him a Neo-Platonist, but he does draw on that tradition among others. He's also quite readable, and his book, A World Full of Gods, is probably the best philosophical argument for polytheism currently available, although I think it's weakened by trying to do too much in a short space. He also has a blog, The Archdruid's Report; it's mostly devoted to environmental issues, but does get into directly neopagan concerns semi-regularly.

some kant said...

Pattsce, I used to post as "some kant" months ago and recently I found out I still had the "man with a computer" account, which I made some years ago to troll at a friend's blog. Now I'm using it to post here so I changed the name!

Pattsce said...

Some kant,

Good, good. It takes me a little while to figure out which posters I like/think are intelligent enough to read. Man with a computer (you I guess) was one. So I was all, "Wait, he has the same picture, but..." Got it now. Hello!

Mark Szlazak said...

The solution is simple, dump Jesus Christ.

After all, he's just a Jewish guy that had delusions of grandeur, thought he was the messiah and had expected an end-time staring in his time or soon after. Now days if anyone really thought that then they would be considered a lunatic. So basically "lord the savior" is really just a lunatic and the Christian trinity has him as one aspect! Come on people! Some "conscious ultimate" can be thought of in better ways than that.

Isn't dumping Jesus a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Comrade Szlazak, PZPR propaganda is not good philosophy.

George R. said...

Neo-paganism? "The Arch-Druid's Report"? What the heck is going on here, people? I would have thought that we had at least gotten beyond this kind of rubbish.

It's obvious that some people posting here -- to put it as diplomatically as possible -- are not exactly addicted to reality.

BenYachov said...

George R,

Need I remind you that you call yourself a Traditional Catholic yet you reject the Authority of Pope Benedict XVI?

Plus you are a Young Earth Creationist and a Geocentrist!

People in glass houses & so forth.

BenYachov said...

>Isn't dumping Jesus a good idea?

No it isn't.

Have a nice day.

Richard said...

"Addicted to reality?" How can anyone be addicted to the most basic requirement for existence? And so far as it goes for ideological purity in a blogs comment box, expecting something like that is pretty far out, realistically. Especially here. Watch what you say, my friend. Words mean things.

George R. said...

So let me get this straight, Ben. Creationism and geocentrism, which were both held by all the Church Fathers, is now on intellectual par with idolatry. And what's more, since you denounce my views and say nothing against paganism, you apparently believe that the views of the Fathers are even more ridiculous than fornicating with idols.

I think you'd better reconsider your position; it's not even close to tenable.

BenYachov said...

>Creationism and geocentrism, which were both held by all the Church Fathers,

They also believed a fetus developed by the mixing of blood in the womb with seamen and Aristotle's faulty view of physics (not to be confused with his correct view of metaphysics).

They got their science wrong.

BTW you still deny the authority of the Pope.

That is heresy.

BenYachov said...

BTW George there is a moral difference between learning about pagan thought vs believing in paganism.

The Church Father cited pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.

Inconsistent much?

George R. said...

Okay, Ben, I'm a heretic. Whatever.

Just answer me this: is paganism ridiculous? (Note: this is not an essay question. Just respond "yes" or "no," please.)

Now we'll see if you're capable of a straight answer.

some kant said...

Dad, I'm really worried about this recent wave of crimes in our city, but thankfully I've got a solution: I'm going to start worshipping Thor.

*leaves basement, heads to the convention to hook up with fat chicks. huh-wyte power 14-88*.

The Deuce said...

I'd say that paganism is far less ridiculous than materialist atheism, and that in dealing with genuine pagans, the Christian should focus on shared premises and work from there, rather than ridiculing them.

BenYachov said...

>Just answer me this: is paganism ridiculous? (Note: this is not an essay question. Just respond "yes" or "no," please.)

It's the same as being a modern Geocentrist.

George R. said...

Well, Deuce, you should know that Moses, King David, and St. Paul all taught repeatedly in Scripture that "the gods of the gentiles are devils." So basically we're dealing with a bunch of devil-worshippers here. I also seem to recall that paganism was a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Now which one was it again? Oh yes, the FIRST, that's right, the very First Commandment. So right out of the box, FAIL! In short, Deuce, what with all this devil-worshipping and spitting on the laws of the true God, I'm not really seeing these "shared premises" you're talking about. Maybe you could provide some examples.

Yachov,
(sigh) No straight answer from you yet. Someday, perhaps.

BenYachov said...

>No straight answer from you yet. Someday, perhaps.

I think it's pretty clear what I meant.

>I also seem to recall that paganism was a violation of one of the Ten Commandments.

Then why are Augustine and Aquinas Saints even thought they quoted pagan philosophers?

Further more you used the adjective "ridiculous" not "True" or "False".

Obviously Paganism is false. But it's no more ridiculous then a 21st century man believing in Geocentracism.

BTW "Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff."

-Pope Boniface VIII, in his Bull Unam Sanctum (1302)

Learn to follow that & others might take you seriously.

BenYachov said...

>So basically we're dealing with a bunch of devil-worshippers here.

QUOTE"It is reasonable, Christian, and charitable to suppose that the "false gods" of the heathen were, in their conscience, the only true God they knew, and that their worship being right in its intention, went up to the one true God with that of Jews and Christians to whom He had revealed Himself. "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ . . . . . the gentiles who have not the law, shall be judged by their conscience" (Romans 2:14-16). God, who wishes all men to be saved, and Christ, who died for all who sinned in Adam, would be frustrated in their merciful designs if the prince of this world were to carry off all idolaters."
-Catholic Encylopedia 1910 entry on Idolatry.

Not all pagans are "Devil worshipers" sorry but you sound like either a Calvinist or a Jansinist here not a Catholic.

At best the Heathen "gods" where devils or non-existent fantasy.

Thursday said...

"Pagans" like Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus were monotheists, not polytheists.

BenYachov said...

Modern Pagans can be called "monotheists" in that they believe the "gods" are but manifestations of an ultimate God. Just like Plato, Aristotle, Photeus etc....

George R. said...

Yachov,

Nobody’s denying that God cut the ancient pagans some slack. St. Paul himself said that God had hitherto “winked” at their ways; but with the death of Christ, the time for winking was over, which was St. Paul’s main point. Besides, it can’t be denied that the gods of the gentiles were devils, whether the ancient idolaters knew it or not. So, in fact, they were worshipping devils, at least materially.

The main point I was making, however, was that neo-paganism should not at all be seriously considered. On the contrary, it should be exposed for the shameful tomfoolery that it so obviously is. I don’t need the Catholic Encyclopedia to tell me whether worshipping blocks of wood, or stones or trees is silly. Or that adoring the Earth as a goddess is inexcusable behavior for a supposedly intelligent creature. These things are just as much an abuse of the rational faculties as sexual perversion is an abuse of the sexual faculties. And I don't really care if that's stepping on some people's toes. We should be more concerned about right reason and the honor of God, and less concerned about whether we’re sufficiently taking into account the tender sensibilities of the wiccans or giving the druid community a fair hearing.

Thursday said...

I'd like to recommend St. Augustine's polemic against polytheism, The City of God, which should probably be called by its subtitle: Against the Pagans.

Brandon said...

People who are genuinely concerned with right reason don't dismiss actual positions held by actual people out of hand, but first make sure that they have adequate responses to the strongest arguments in their favor. That requires looking for the best reasoning they themselves provide. Anyone who does otherwise is acting irrationally and without regard for truth, regardless of the position in question; ridicule is not a substitute for analysis and refutation, and is an adequate response only for children who haven't fully developed the skills suitable for rational adults.

Anonymous said...

BenYachov,

This is somewhat off topic, but I've been meaning to make this request of you for a while: Will you please make a concerted effort to write with a grammar, a syntax, a punctuation, and a spelling that is becoming of a rational, studied adult? Look, I get that the blogosphere, and the internet more generally, is primarily a place of mental ejaculation, but in your case, the posts unfortunately resemble ejaculations. Or drab scrapings of digital diarrhea. Or bathroom stall graffiti. Et cetera. The point is, every time that I skim over a thread, and notice that you have yet again, by way of your relentless stream of ADHD scribblings, managed to obliterate every speck of aesthetic appeal that really ought to characterize philosophical exchanges, I cry. Crude cries. Feser cries. And the world weeps.

***


In short, you have some good thoughts. It's a shame, though, that they're packaged and presented so downright pathetically.

Crude said...

I cry. Crude cries. Feser cries. And the world weeps.

Bwaha. I'm honored to be mentioned in this context, which implies something positive about my writing. But I shouldn't be listed alongside Feser - there's too much of a gulf. He has more restraint, he's more learned. I'm just another pseudonym-using internet punk.

As for Ben, I admit I like many of his posts. Spelling and grammar errors don't disturb me as much as they do others, and as you seem to have noted, the actual content of Ben's comments are often worthwhile. The man also strives to be fair - find me someone as spirited as Ben who will still praise certain people who disagree with him, without reservation. Give me punctuation errors and good content over well-written jackassery any day.

Others' mileage may vary, and I may be in the minority here. This blog attracts more well-written replies than most.

Crude said...

Regarding paganism: I'm of the mind that Christians, and certainly Catholics, should always strive to understand the sincere beliefs of others and strive to find common ground, if there is any. I disagree deeply with pagans, certainly with polytheists, but that doesn't mean there can't be something there to agree with, or at least use as the beginning of a greater conversation.

That said, to echo some kant - years ago when I was at my university's student groups fair, I had trouble telling the difference between the Neo-Pagan organization and the Magic: the Gathering club.

BenYachov said...

@George R,

>The main point I was making, however, was that neo-paganism should not at all be seriously considered.

I agree with that 100%. But of course my point was that versions of "Catholicism" that deny the Pope. Deny Matt 16:18 really ment anything. Deny the core teachings of Vatican One on infalliblity and Indefectability shouldn't be considered seriously either.

In short you are right to exort persons not to embrace neo-Paganism. But I am equally right in rebuking your heresies as well.

Sedivacantism is just as "Satanic" as Paganism. Even more so since Paganism is obviously not Catholic. But Sedi "Catholicism" is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

You need to return to the True Church. I'm serious.

BTW Brandan does have a point about "People who are genuinely concerned with right reason don't dismiss actual positions held by actual people out of hand, but first make sure that they have adequate responses to the strongest arguments in their favor" so acting a little hysterical because someone recomended reading a neo-Pagan newsletter is a bit daft. Like Pagan coodies are gonna get us or something.

That is all I have to say to you George R.

Anon wrote:
>Will you please make a concerted effort to write with a grammar, a syntax, a punctuation, and a spelling that is becoming of a rational, studied adult?

No. I think I might have undiagnosed ADHD but I am middle aged & set in my ways.
So thanks for the complements on my ideas but it's not going to happen. Old dog tricks & so forth.

Cheers all.

Anonymous said...

"I am middle aged & set in my ways."

Then why argue with middle-aged atheists?

some kant said...

Brandon,

You mad? I recall saying that I have only met ridiculous neopagans, not that neopaganism is ridiculous because I have only met ridiculous neopagans. It might be ridiculous, but since I have not read what its best representatives have to say I'm not ready to say it is.

But anyways if humorous or snarky remarks are forbidden here then I guess I better move to a chess blog or something like that.

some kant said...

Also, Ben owns. I don't care about his grammar and spelling.

George R. said...

People who are genuinely concerned with right reason don't dismiss actual positions held by actual people out of hand, but first make sure that they have adequate responses to the strongest arguments in their favor.

Yes they do, when those positions are self-evidently contrary to immutable first principles. In this case, since paganism is self-evidently contrary to the First Commandment, I can with perfect justice reject the whole filthy confluence. What do you think, God is going to reproach me for it?

but first make sure that they have adequate responses to the strongest arguments in their favor. That requires looking for the best reasoning they themselves provide.

Maybe I should subscribe to the “Arch-Druid’s Report.”

Anyone who does otherwise is acting irrationally and without regard for truth, regardless of the position in question

So, anyone who would condemn the pedophile organization NABLA, which promotes the sodomy of young boys by men, must listen to all “the strongest arguments in their favor” before he does so, “otherwise [he] is acting irrationally and without regard for truth.”

Whatever.

ridicule is not a substitute for analysis and refutation

No, but there are times when it’s perfectly appropriate, like with these screwballs.

Tony said...

Brandon: People who are genuinely concerned with right reason don't dismiss actual positions held by actual people out of hand, but first make sure that they have adequate responses to the strongest arguments in their favor. That requires looking for the best reasoning they themselves provide. Anyone who does otherwise is acting irrationally and without regard for truth,

Crude: I'm of the mind that Christians, and certainly Catholics, should always strive to understand the sincere beliefs of others and strive to find common ground, if there is any.

Yes.

And No.

Yes: St. Thomas himself usually restated the best arguments against the truth before laying out the truth, and then answering the errors. Which means he had studied and grasped them. The flaws of the heresiarchs help, when studied properly, to clarify the truth more fully.

On the other hand, it must be understood that MOST atheists and agnostics DO NOT hold their positions sincerely. You have to realize this clearly: their positions, 99 times out of 100, are adhered to because they FIRST adhere to sin, and the sin clouds their minds and wills. Those who are steeped in vice simply cannot grasp many truths of ethics, but the "cannot" is an evil in their will, not simply a mistake in the intellect. And again, most former Catholics who left the Faith did so because they were mired in sin, or simply didn't WANT to adhere to sound (sexual) morality - they didn't like the morality preached by Christ, so they "found" problems with it. And the other philosophical errors often spring out of those rejections of basic morality. (There is an oversimplification there, I will admit: most Catholics have been mis-educated by OTHERS who are given over to bad philosophy.)

If you happen (by great fortune) to run into a truly sincere atheist, one who while not mired in sin STILL thinks that there is no God, then yes, you should give him much respect and work with him in examining his arguments, because that will be well worth it. But with 99% of them it is just their gonads taking over their wills and intellects, and it is not argument they need but reproof of a sort that generally only God can administer.

Josh said...

I think Chesterton (among other Christian writers) provides a way to appreciate classical Paganism:

"There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas. Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity."

E.H. Munro said...

Then why argue with middle-aged atheists?

There is no Ben. Just some bosons & fermions that make up Ben matter, and they argue with middle aged atheists because they are predestined to do so by god... or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Middle aged or middle school? ;-)

Ray Ingles said...

Tony - "But with 99% of them it is just their gonads taking over their wills and intellects, and it is not argument they need but reproof of a sort that generally only God can administer."

Gosh, that certainly makes things convenient for you, doesn't it? :)

The Deuce said...

Oy, let's just look at how the apostle Paul himself dealt with pagans.

Did he mock them? Did he say, "You're a bunch of morons and DEVIL WORSHIPERS! There is no common ground between you and I!"

Well, you tell me:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+17%3A16-34&version=ESV

Thursday said...

On the other hand, it must be understood that MOST atheists and agnostics DO NOT hold their positions sincerely.

No, most of them are quite sincere. Most of them just don't have any supernatural intuitions, so they can't really understand why anyone would believe.

Thursday said...

Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.

This isn't true. The materialism/irreligion of Democritus, Epicurus, Thucydides, Lucretius, etc. was never incorporated into Christianity.

There are really three "paganisms":

1. The regular polytheists.
2. The monotheistic philosophers.
3. The materialists.

Tony said...

Ray: Gosh, that certainly makes things convenient for you, doesn't it? :)

Oh, no, not at all. Quite the reverse, it is extremely INconvenient. You see, God will administer the effective corrective when asked suitably by us, His instruments of good. Which means I and my confreres should be fasting, doing penances, embracing humilities, and generally being joyfully meek amidst tribulations in reparation for the sins of the atheist, all in preparation for the atheist to be granted a divine gift to lift him out of his well-earned ignorance. That there are so many atheists is proof positive that there are too few Mothers Teresa of Calcutta, not too few correct philosophers.

Josh said...

Thursday,

Methinks your definition of pagan is too broad when applied to Chesterton. Obviously the sophists weren't incorporated so much as defeated by Christianity. The sociological classification "pagan" is not exactly the one under scrutiny here.

Tony said...

Thursday, you mean something different from "sincere" than I mean, apparently.

Let us suppose for the moment that I show you the axioms and postulates that the Pythagorean Theorem is based on, and you accept the axioms as valid and you understand the postulates as coherent. Then let us suppose I lead you through the proof of the Pythagorean theorem, and instead of assenting to it you say instead "wait, I have a lot of trouble allowing you to go forward with Axiom 2 and Postulate 3, I don't like those, so I reject the conclusion" It would be reasonable to think that the "I don't like" is driven not entirely by an intellectual dispute but by one resting elsewhere, like in the passions and emotions. The refusal to accept the conclusion is an intellectual act, but the motivation for it is not wholly explained by the simply intellectual rejection of the grounds from which the conclusion springs. This is not, then, an intellectual act driven by the natural operation of the intellect seeking the natural grounds of apprehension, but by something extrinsic to the intellect interfering with its natural operation. The rejection of the conclusion is not intellectually forthright. The person may not be subjectively aware of the disharmony, of the defect being a kind of internal incoherence that represents the intellect not being true to its own nature. But the incoherence is there.

At least 95% of atheists couldn't even state correctly the philosophical premises for the proof for God, much less state clear reasons to dispute them. Taking the other 5%, typically when such an atheist is driven to dispute the independent philosophical grounds of the proof for God, he is driven to that dispute not by the sheer lack of intellectual apprehension of the truths under the natural operations of intellect using natural grounds of adherence to truth, but by causes extrinsic to the intellect, interfering with its natural operation.

Thursday said...

At least 95% of atheists couldn't even state correctly the philosophical premises for the proof for God, much less state clear reasons to dispute them.

What is your point? Most theists are relying entirely on intuitions too.

Thursday said...

I was really taking issue with the following:

Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin.

This isn't true. Christianity may or may not have helped physical science take off, but it had its origins before the Christian era.

Atheism, materialism and opposition to religion clearly precede Christianity and their opposition to that particular tradition is really incidental.

Ray Ingles said...

Tony - "the philosophical premises for the proof for God"

I'm struck by the use of the singular there.

Josh said...

Thursday,

He's referring to the advent of physical science in the modern era, where, as you say, "Christianity may or may not have helped physical science take off." That's really all he was trying to say.

As to the second point, an attack on Christianity obviously presupposes the prior existence of Christianity. That's all he was trying to say. Obviously referring to a specific criticism leveled at Christianity, not some vague atheistic generalization against all supernatural belief.

BenYachov said...

>Then why argue with middle-aged atheists?

Why not?

Just because I am set in my ways in regards to my aweful grammmmer and splling ;-) don't mean others are set in their ways too.

We are all individuals.

BenYachov said...

>So, anyone who would condemn the pedophile organization NABLA, which promotes the sodomy of young boys by men, must listen to all “the strongest arguments in their favor”

I fail to see an equivalence between moral depravity vs metaphysics.

I can study Mormon doctrines & Philosophy and critique them.

I can also use moral theory to critique homosexuality and or child abuse. I can champion natural law over relativism & utilitarianism.

I can even read Sedivicantist bullcrap & tell you why it's wrong.

Anonymous said...

Ben, how much of your philosophical formation do you owe to Dr. Feser?

George R. said...

I fail to see an equivalence between moral depravity vs metaphysics.

Which do you think is more depraved, worshipping false gods or sodomizing young boys?

Alyosha said...

George R.

I fail to see an equivalence between moral depravity vs metaphysics.

Which do you think is more depraved, worshipping false gods or sodomizing young boys?

Pray tell, George, what that has to do with the point? How precisely would an answer to your question (involving two examples of depravity, and none of metaphysics) demonstrate an equivalence between moral depravity and metaphysics?

The Deuce said...

Tony:

Oh, no, not at all. Quite the reverse, it is extremely INconvenient....

The refusal to accept the conclusion is an intellectual act, but the motivation for it is not wholly explained by the simply intellectual rejection of the grounds from which the conclusion springs. This is not, then, an intellectual act driven by the natural operation of the intellect seeking the natural grounds of apprehension, but by something extrinsic to the intellect interfering with its natural operation.


I agree with this, and it's especially clear in cases where atheists espouse eliminativism directly, or things that imply eliminativism while engaging in sophistry to avoid acknowledging that their beliefs imply eliminativism. Ditto for materialist atheists who engage in sophistry to pretend that they don't see the obvious fact that their position entails moral relativism, or who do accept it but then make statements about the supposedly objective evils of religion and intolerance. Ditto for atheists who claim there's no free will, but continue to wax eloquent about the power of "reason", while engaging in sophistry to pretend not to notice that their position entails the nonexistence of reason. Ditto atheists who convince themselves that the Constitution says things about public expressions of religion that anyone without a severe reading disability can clearly see is false. Etc, etc

These are all flat-out incoherent (not just poorly evidenced) things that no sane person would espouse without having a very strong emotional motivation for it, and it's highly inconvenient and frustrating for those of us who want to argue others into the truth. And I agree with you that in the large majority of cases, the motivation is pelvic (though in some cases it's just hatred or fear of moral authority more generally, and not specifically sexually).

George R. said...

Alyosha,
I assumed that what Ben was trying to say was that, by comparing NAMBLA to paganism in my post above, I was essentially comparing a moral depravity to metaphysics. I disagreed with that analysis. Therefore, in my follow-up question I suggested that it was rather a question of comparing depravity to depravity, not depravity to metaphysics. So with this in mind, I asked him which he thought was worse.

Btw, it's quite obvious which one he considers worse. I'm just trying to get him to give me a straight answer to a question, any question.

Anonymous said...

??

Why is there a distinction afoot here between morality and metaphysics? The metaphysical facts wholly determine the moral facts, and for classical metaphysical essentialists a la Aquinas, a moral fact just is a metaphysical fact.

Alyosha said...

Anonymous,

One reason there is a distinction is because although the metaphysics may determine the ethics, the two are distinct. Natural law may be determined by a metaphysics of essences, for instance, but the metaphysics is something distinct from its ethical implications and can even be applied in non-ethical contexts.

As it pertains to the conversation above, I think the distinction arose because Ben was trying to defend why one can take a metaphysical system seriously. When the objection was made that he should also take all the strongest arguments for debauchery seriously, Ben's response was that he can consider and critique Mormon theology, say, but he failed to see how this entailed he should have to take pedophilial sodomy seriously. It isn't clear to him (nor to me, for that matter) that moral depravity is on a par with metaphysics in this way.

At least, that is how I understood the relevant posts.

BenYachov said...

Alyosha gets it right.

Pedophilia is not a metaphysical view or a religious view. It's morally evil and tragic.

Questions such as is there one God or many & what is the nature of the divine have nothing to do with it.


George is just busting chops here.

BenYachov said...

It is no more a sin or silly to read a pagan newsletter then it was for the Fathers to read Homer.

Unless the letter contains pornography then there can be no rational objection to reading it to learn about it.

BenYachov said...

I can read a book about pedophilia (& have) from the viewpoint of clinical psychology and treatment.

So that is wrong for some reason?

Richard said...

Actually, if you would go to the Archdruid Report, you aren't going to find a site of pagan apologetics or even some sort of newsletter. It is a blog by a neo-pagan about energy concerns, gardening, and culture issues. If a certain reactionary had taken the time, he could have seen this for himself rather than wastiing everyones time with all of his hot air. Some Kant had made a comment about pagans that he had met being either seeming role-players or racists, so I simply pointed out a few of the better grounded individuals in the community for him to check out. That is all. Now, John Michael Greer DID specifically write a book defending polytheism, and you can choose to ignore the pagan cooties if you wish or you can pick it up out of curiosity. Actually, as I understand it, Brandon has already read and reviewed the bookat his site, so if you are interested you can read his review in the hopes of avoiding a TERRIBLE and DEMONIC contamination.

James said...

“But the apparent (even if unintended) implication of the position staked out by de Lubac and Balthasar is that there is no such thing as a human nature intelligible apart from grace and apart from Christian revelation. And it is in that case hard to see how there could be a natural theology and natural law intelligible to someone not already convinced of the truth of that revelation.”

This reminds me of nothing so much as the following:

“Here there is no question of Aristotelianism, but of the dictates of reason, which are imposed on our intellects; a nature cannot be, before any grace is received, ordered to a uniquely possible end, unless this end enters into the very notion of the nature in question.”

No mere petitio principii this. Dialectic? What dialectic?

Samson J. said...

No, most of them are quite sincere. Most of them just don't have any supernatural intuitions

I don't think this is quite true, Thursday, and I think the other poster is correct. If most atheists seem simply to "lack supernatural intuitions", then that is, as Tony says, because they've suppressed that intuition, perhaps subconsciously.

Again, to agree with Tony, I've observed that almost always, when someone becomes an atheist, the "conversion" is preceded by some form of sin. The new atheist will usually say, "Well, I read some stuff, realized that Christianity is bunk, and so why not enjoy myself?" That's what they will say, as an attempt at self-justification, but reality is almost always the reverse: the person fell in love with some sin and *then* decided he never really believed in all that God stuff anyway.

I've seen this play out many, many times. Many, many atheists that you meet online turn out, if you get to know them, to have followed this script, though they rarely make it clear right from the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Is Aquinas as accomplished a philosopher as Ochkam?

The Deuce said...

Is Aquinas as accomplished a philosopher as Ochkam?

*facepalm*

Anonymous said...

"At least 95% of atheists couldn't even state correctly the philosophical premises for the proof for God, much less state clear reasons to dispute them."

Neither could 95% of Christians. The vast majority of people of any stripe have no knowledge of philosophy, nor any capacity for it.

some kant said...

Is Aquinas as accomplished a philosopher as Ochkam?

Best comment 2012.

Anonymous said...

Anon said: "Neither could 95% of Christians. The vast majority of people of any stripe have no knowledge of philosophy, nor any capacity for it."

That's an empirical claim and would therefore require empirical proof. Do you have? ;-)

Anonymous said...

at the moment I can't help agreeing with Alister McGrath that, for example the doctrine of the impassibility of God is "an example of the influence of a Hellenistic milieu upon Christian... ...which clearly suggests a subordination of a biblical to a philosophical version of God".

And the worst of it is pseudo-Feserites identify this Hellenism with Catholicism. On this latter point Feser himself is more circumspect, of course, but even he, endeavouring to cast the praeambula of faith as prerequisites of faith, conflates the principles of Aristotelian doctrine with the principles of reason itself.