Tag Archives: Atheism

Book Review: Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro

Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.

Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.

We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).

However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.

The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years.  He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.

Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.

The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas.  Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.

The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.

I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.

The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896).  That chapter is full of drama and humanity.

Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here).  In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.

Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.

Where Is Your Soul?

If anything could prove the existence of a soul, it is the utter emptiness of a corpse.
— Mary Doria Russell, Children of God

Death of St. Joseph

When I was little, I asked my father where our souls were in our bodies. He made a gesture in the general area of his liver while trying to explain that souls animate our entire bodies. For quite awhile afterward, I was convinced that the soul was an organ beside the liver.

One evening I was walking through a park with an atheist friend, who is a strong determinist—he doesn’t believe that we have free will, but that all our decisions are formed solely by our genes or environment. He asked, “Wouldn’t you make the same decision again with the same information at hand?”

He is also a complete materialist (in the metaphysical sense). I asked, “What’s the difference between a living person and a corpse?”

He responded: “It’s all neurons. I’m basically a robot.”

At that juncture, I was strongly tempted to hit him over the head or grab him by the shoulders to shake some sense into him.1

Scientists have found that there is actually increased brain activity after death.2 Numerous near-death and out-of-body experiences have been recorded, suggesting that a human maintains consciousness though he may be clinically dead.3

Here’s a fascinating story in the secular press: “The top doctor who swears he saw a glimpse of hell: No-nonsense anaesthetist dismissed patients who said they’d had out-of-body experiences until HE went under the knife.

Many years ago, my maternal grandmother Maria died from an accidental poisoning, and my grandfather left her body lying on their bed for a few days because he was in too much grief to prepare it for burial.

After those days, she awoke, saying that she had found herself in a place of profound peace and overwhelming joy, which she never wanted to leave. But a bearded man approached and told her she had to return to earth, because she had children to look after.

I am rather glad she did come back to this life, because my mother wasn’t born yet!

These words by a scientist who converted from materialistic atheism have stayed with me:

Lewontin and most scientists are true believers in materialism, possessing an absolute faith that matter and its workings will eventually explain everything in the universe. But such a faith has already failed at the most basic level; brain function alone cannot account for the simple experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling. All human beings, scientists and laypersons, live in the nonmaterial world of the smell of lavender, the deep resonance of a cello, the beauty of a sunset over an ocean, the wonder evoked by the night sky, the elegance of Euclid’s demonstration of the infinitude of prime numbers, the very world that materialism cannot explain. If only matter existed, then we would have no interior life; we would be mindless things like rocks and volcanoes.4

The soul is the form of the body, as Aristotle teaches.5 “The body cannot be the principle that accounts for life, since a body, when deprived of life, is still a body, but not alive.”6 Just as a house becomes a house when materials are constructed according to a certain plan, so does a living thing come into existence when it is ensouled.7 Without the soul, the body crumbles away into dust.

Let us treasure our souls, and take good care of them, just as we care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Our souls are made in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image and likeness of Love.

Remember, Christian soul, that thou has this day a duty:

God to Glorify, Eternity to Prepare for,

Jesus to Imitate, The Angels and Saints to invoke;

Your Soul to Save, Your Body to Mortify,

Sins to Expiate, Virtues to Acquire,

Hell to avoid, Heaven to Gain,

Time to Profit by, Your neighbors to Edify,

The World to Despise, Devils to Combat,

Passions to Subdue, Death Perhaps to Encounter,

and Judgment to Undergo.8

brooklyn_museum_-_the_soul_of_the_good_thief_lame_du_bon_larron_-_james_tissot

“…there is a case against cannibalism; the aversion from the idea of my eating my next-door neighbour is not a prejudice. … It rests on a sacramental sentiment about the human body, by which the soul soaks the body like a strong savour, and does not merely inhabit it like a hat in a hat-box.”
G. K. Chesterton, “The Moral Collapse of Modern Germany” (February 17, 1917)

You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the Blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again!”
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, around May 27, 1906 (After assuring her mother that her doctrine on the presence of God within us is not something she came up with, but rather what Scripture tells us.)9

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul. My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make His mark on them, to transform them into Himself.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (Letter 122)10

Images: The Death of St Joseph, mesa wood carving (via Joy-Sorrow); James Tissot, L’âme du bon Larron (The Soul of the Good Thief).

_

1 Actually, I wanted to kiss him (can robots feel longing for, or aversion to, a kiss?), and I wrote a poem about that, but that’s another story.

2 Ed Yong, “In Dying Brains, Signs of Heightened Consciousness”, National Geographic.

4 George Stanciu, “Atheism: Disproved by Science?”, The Imaginative Conservative.

5 S. Marc Cohen, “Aristotle on the Soul”, Philosophy 320: History of Ancient Philosophy, University of Washington.

6 Joseph M. Magee, Ph. D., “Thomistic Psychology”, Aquinas Online.

7 S. Marc Cohen, “Aristotle on Substance, Matter, and Form”, Philosophy 320: History of Ancient Philosophy, University of Washington.

8The Christian Soul”, Holy Reflections; “Subjects for Daily Meditation”, Preces Latinae.

10 Jean M. Heimann, “Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity”, Catholic Fire.

A Scientific Approach to God

It is said that the most popular theory for the beginning of time and space is the Big Bang. This is the theory which states that 13.8 billion years ago, “everything in the Cosmos started out as a single point in space. In an instant, everything expanded outward from that location, forming the energy, atoms and eventually the stars and galaxies we see today.” An impressive theory, one that can easily be reconciled with the Creation Narratives of Christianity. However, there are many who renounce the account of God creating the universe, choosing various other viewpoints, even random chance, as the reason why there is something rather than nothing.

Msgr Georges Lemaître

Monsignor Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest, is credited with conceiving and advancing the Big Bang theory in 1927. This was at a time when many scientists believed that the universe was infinite, and therefore most had trouble accepting Monsignor Lemaître’s proposal. However, after Edwin Hubble reported in 1929 his observations that far galaxies are continuing to move further away from us, scientists began to accept the theory. This included Stephen Hawking, whose work in the 1960s helped to further the understanding that the universe has a beginning.

A sensible decision — if we observe that galaxies in space are moving away from each other, then it would make perfect sense that they were at one time very close together. Moreover, it would be correct to infer that there was some force that caused the galaxies to separate and expand.

While science is a great tool in discerning and discovering aspects of reality, it cannot be deemed the sole arbiter of what is real and what is not. To say that God did not have a role in the beginning of time and space is an unscientific claim. I state that there is much more proof for God than there is for the idea of a Godless beginning of everything.

First, we can scientifically observe the world around us and see that in no other circumstance does something cause itself. Nothing else seems to just happen without something bringing it about. To say that the Big Bang caused itself would then be an exception in which we allow for a self-caused entity to exist.

Earth

If one wanted to turn the tables, so to say, on Christians and our God, we see that the definition of God is that He is not created, therefore not a self-caused, but an infinite Being. We believe this as it has been revealed to us through Divine Revelation and not from mere observation. Furthermore, we do not believe this as sole individuals or as part of a cult, but as members of an institution with rich foundational Tradition, which brings me to my next point.

If we look at the evidence for our Faith that has been handed down over the millennia, we can rest assured that when we assert that the Creation of Life and the World by an all-loving God is reality, we are in good standing and good company. The Church itself has 2,000 years of teachings and further clarifications from many respectable, intelligent people. If one does the work, one will find logical conclusions and insights within these teachings.

Furthermore, much like Christ performed miracles to affirm His teaching, so too do we find many miracles through the history of the Church to affirm our Faith. Two of the strongest are the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe (still on display in Mexico City) and the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano (still on display in Lanciano, Italy). While many can assume these two phenomena, both studied and tested, are false and easily ignore them, that does not prove them to be false. In fact, in many of its investigations of miracles, the Church has asked atheist scientists to study them in order to receive unbiased conclusions.

While these miracles and testimonies are indeed extraordinary, there is still more for the Christian in our Faith. In fact, not only can we know more about our Faith and come to know of God’s power, but we are also able to know God Himself, growing closer to Him and experiencing His power each day. Just like it is possible for one to buy a really expensive telescope and witness for themselves the drifting of the planets to believe in the Big Bang, it is also possible for one to know for themselves that God exists.

However, before God proves Himself to us, we need to prove ourselves to Him. Throughout the Gospels, the miracles that Christ performs on behalf of the sick, the blind, the deaf are for those who show great faith in Him. The hemorrhaging woman who touches His cloak, the paralyzed man lowered through the roof by his friends, and the Centurion whose slave was also in need of healing all went before Jesus with faith. While God too is the source of this Faith, we must use our free will to accept His Revelation and whatever He has planned for us. Additionally, it is interesting to note that all of these men and women manifested their Faith to Jesus in a big way.

It might not have been as comfortable as it seems for these people to go before Christ in front of others, humbly show their weaknesses and ask for healing. In a way, they needed to leave their comfort zones in order to experience Jesus in this way. So too must we be stretched at times in order to experience God. Furthermore, we must go humbly, seeking Him on His terms. We cannot reduce God into an organism that we can fully know and study exhaustively. If we could, He would not be God.

In a way, the origin of the universe is an interesting analogy for God. Today, we can study and learn more about it, but we cannot fully identify nor comprehend how or why the universe began, with the unique role of Earth in supporting life. Nor can we know God fully. However, with the testimonies we find in the Church over the past 2,000 years, along with the Jewish foundations on which these accounts are based, as well as our own experience of God in our daily ever-enriched lives, we can study and learn more about God, while not fully comprehending Him.

In our study and growth in relationship with the Almighty, there are things we can actively do to both prove ourselves to Him and know God and our Faith more.

First, we can read some of the following books:

  1. Practical Theology by Dr. Peter Kreeft
  2. Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science by Stacy Trasancos
  3. Pints with Aquinas by Matt Fradd
  4. Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed
  5. Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church by H. W. Crocker III

Second, we can practice these devotions

  1. The Rosary
  2. The Daily Office (even just the morning prayer)
  3. Mass more than just on Sundays (even every day is possible)
  4. Routine Adoration
  5. Scheduled prayer time
  6. Daily Bible or Gospel Meditation
  7. Join/start a Prayer group that involves any of the above devotions or the books listed.

Our Faith is much more than a viewpoint, opinion, or theory of life. It is even more than a way of life, because it is Life itself. These books and practices are ways for us to encounter this Life that raises us up both now and at the end of our lives. Our Faith is bursting with much more and I would love to see in the comments anything else you would recommend for myself and others to encounter God and grow more in our Faith.

___

Image: AllThingsCatholic; NASA.

Proof of God via Business Consultant

In my discussion with atheists, the atheist always wants to see proof of God’s existence. If I cannot provide scientific data, then he makes the claim that I believe in a fairy tale or that I am delusional. I think G.K. Chesterton is right, I do believe in fairy tales because I believe in dragons and the fairy tales told me that dragons can be defeated. I have been called crazy many times, but I also know that many patients in the asylum think the nurses are crazy too. My response to the atheist is that God cannot be measured by science because science is the wrong instrument. There are many different instruments of measurement like reason, logic, common sense, and theology. Theology is the instrument used to study God.

Let me give an example I read from Peter Drucker, one of America’s most influential management consultants. He wrote many books that have shaped the minds of many in management and innovation. I am reading Innovation and Entrepreneurship and found an intriguing and simple explanation that sums up my “wrong instrument” reply to atheists.

He wrote a chapter regarding opportunity nbso online casino reviews and its effect on a business. He gives many examples that a simple change in perception has had on an economy. He starts his chapter with this quote, “In mathematics there is no difference between ‘The glass is half full’ and ‘The glass is half empty.’ But the meaning of these two statements is totally different, and so are their consequences.”

© Pauli N. - Fotolia.com
© Pauli N. – Fotolia.com

The short chapter introduction sent my mind whirling because it shows the difference in using the right instrument to measure different realities. Science can tell me that the half-full and half-empty glasses are identical because they each have the same amount of stuff. But if I use a different tool in my intellectual toolbox, I realize that the wisdom of this example means something more than just a quantity. It deals with how a person understands or is a lens through which he sees his life. The person that sees life as half-full interprets life in a different way than the half-empty person.

The Simplest, Most Direct Argument for God’s Existence

Cosmos

William Lane Craig is one of the sharpest Christian apologists today, especially on questions about God’s existence, Jesus’ Resurrection, and objective morality. The Evangelical philosopher travels around the country giving workshops and lectures. He’s best known for his public debates with well-known atheists and skeptics. (You can watch many of them online through his excellent Reasonable Faith website.)

During these debates, Craig has a very short time to make a clear and compelling case for God. One of his favorite arguments, on which he wrote his doctoral dissertation, is the kalam cosmological argument. Christians have many arguments for God, but the kalam has become increasingly popular because it is straightforward, easy-to-remember, and modern physics affirms one of its crucial premises (note: the argument doesn’t depend on science, but the latest science strongly affirms it.)

The kalam argument is fairly simple:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being, outside of itself.

From there we can deduce that since the cause must exist beyond space and time—since it caused those things—it must be spaceless and timeless. It also must be transcendent (existing outside the universe) and supremely powerful (since it created the entire cosmos.) Therefore, we’re left with a spaceless, timeless, transcendent, supremely powerful cause of the universe—or what believers would call God.

Recently, Craig released a short five-minute video covering the argument. Watch it a few times, remember the in’s and out’s, and you’ll be prepared next time someone tells you, “There’s no evidence for God!”
 

 
(If you can’t see the video above, click here.)
 
If you’d like to go deeper with this argument and others, I’d suggest Craig’s popular book, On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision. For a more academic perspective, check out Fr. Robert Spitzer’s challenging New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Finally, explore the articles and discussions at StrangeNotions.com where we cover arguments like this almost every day. Dr. Edward Feser recently contributed an especially interesting post titled “So You Think You Understand the Cosmological Argument?

Considering Atheism? Try Catholicism.

wyd francis

Maybe I’ve spent too much time listening to World Youth Day coverage and reading articles like this one written by a friend of mine who ran our college’s vibrant Catholic Society. I was surprised to find this article by Hemant Mehta on CNN’s Belief Blog explaining why young people are leaving their churches for atheism. If he’s right about young people’s reasons for atheism, we Catholics need to get our evangelical act together. The Catholic Church has everything they want (and more!), and we ought to get the word out. While I’d love to address Mehta’s article thoroughly, this is my sixth attempt at doing so in less than 1,000 words, so I’ll stick with an explanation of what Catholics believe and how we know it. If I had room, I would offer a defense; for now I can only offer an explanation.

Millennials, Mehta writes, are finding Christianity to be awfully silly. This seems to be a fairly common belief: Christianity was useful, say, back in the Dark Ages, before science, when people believed in elves. It’s unfair to caricature all of Christianity that way. It shows a thorough ignorance of the substance of Catholicism, the most authentic form of Christianity, which has been making consistent claims on faith and morality for about 2,000 years, despite being consistently unpopular. (Question: How did it last that long?)

“Pastors are no longer the final authority on the truth, and millennials know it.” – Mehta

Pastors aren’t the final authority on truth? Catholics never believed they were. I think most of us have heard the “mountain” analogy – different religions are different people’s paths up the mountain to God, and who’s to say that one path is better than another? This is a nice illustration, but misses the central claim of Christianity: God drove a bulldozer down the mountain, became man, “like us in all ways except sin” (cf St. Paul), and said, “Follow me.” We’re not claiming that our favorite path is the objectively best path to God; we’re claiming that the path God made for us and showed us is the best path to God. God, “maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible,” is the final authority on truth. Our Church protects that truth and our pastors relate it.

“To believe in Jesus means believing that he was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and performed a number of miracles. There’s no proof of any of that ever happened…To be sure, if Christians followed the positive ideas Jesus had, we’d all be better off, but it’s very hard to separate the myth from the reality.” – Mehta

This is why it’s so difficult to separate Jesus’s resurrection (and all the other miracles) from his teaching. St. Paul notes this difficulty in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15): “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” Separating Jesus’s identity as God from his teaching is like separating numbers from math. If he isn’t God, if he didn’t actually rise from the dead, Christianity is stupid, a waste of time and energy, and the best hoax anyone’s ever come up with. Christianity isn’t just about “positive ideas.” It’s about a Creator God who entered into human history, who walked with human feet on the earth he created, and who showed us the way up the mountain.

I’ve been intending to give more of an explanation than a defense, because I simply don’t have room for both, but I wanted to comment on Mehta’s “there’s no proof” comment. The “proof” that we don’t have for the Resurrection is too much to ask of any historian about historical events. By the same token, we could say “there’s no proof” that Abraham Lincoln actually gave the Gettysburg Address, or that Alexander the Great ever existed. We have strong evidence, but no proof that it wasn’t all forged. Historical evidence for the Resurrection is actually fairly strong (as Mark Shea, Fr. Robert Barron, Jon Sorensen at Catholic Answers, and About.com explain), and if Jesus can rise from the dead, I don’t see anything stopping him from walking on water or turning it into wine. It would seem to back up his claim to be God, and that would back up his claims about what’s true and how we ought to live.

Catholics believe that God became man – Jesus – and it’s on his authority that we know what we know about God. Our popes, priests, saints, martyrs aren’t necessarily any smarter, wittier, or friendlier than anyone else. They don’t need to be, because it isn’t about them anyway. It’s about Jesus, and our pastors are just passing on the message.

I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from Pope Francis’s encyclical Lumen Fidei.

How can we be certain, after all these centuries, that we have encountered the “real Jesus”? Were we merely isolated individuals, were our starting point simply our own individual ego seeking in itself the basis of absolutely sure knowledge, a certainty of this sort would be impossible. I cannot possibly verify for myself something which happened so long ago. But this is not the only way we attain knowledge. Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name. Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others. Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory. The same thing holds true for faith, which brings human understanding to its fullness. Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’s love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others – witnesses – and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church.

The Church Should Rule the World

Never mind “the Galileo controversy” (a good response to that is here, by the way). The Church should rule the world.

One of the things that I have noticed that Catholics seem to be very wary of discussing is the history of the temporal power of the Church. Most of us have heard or read about the pompous popes, the conniving cardinals, and the notorious nepotism, so I suppose that it is not terribly shocking that Catholics would shrink when Church history is discussed.

But there is surprisingly little for which we should be ashamed, despite what the classic Protestant and secular narratives dictate.

DEFENDING OUR HISTORY

Protestants spread a lot of false propaganda during and after the Reformation. Lutherans, especially, consistently made it a point to implicitly and explicitly label the Pope as “Antichrist” and “Lucifer.” Protestants also frequently invented lies about past popes.

Pope Alexander VI is a great example of the much-maligned popes. He has been accused of having carnal relations with his daughter, throwing the infamous Banquet of Chestnuts, and having his enemies killed off.

Well, there is no proof that any of that ever happened. The daughter thing? There is absolutely no solid factual basis for it. The banquet? Msgr. Peter de Roo, after searching the Vatican Archives extensively, debunked that one. It was allegedly recorded by Johann Burchard, the pope’s master of ceremonies, in his diary, but it seems inconsistent with Burchard’s writing style. It is also contrary to the majority consensus of historians. The murder of his enemies? I can find no proof of that, either, but I guess that such activity was just commonly assumed to have taken place, given the time period.

(For more about Pope Alexander VI, watch a video about him that I created.)

Oh, and the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the like? Christians have killed far, far fewer people than have atheists and members of most other faiths (which is demonstrated here). Also, a fantastic guide to the Inquisitions (and the difference between the Spanish Inquisition, a state-managed affair, and Inquisitions managed by the Church) is available here.

Meanwhile, the Church has done good. The Church denounced slavery way before other entities (read about the complicated history here), created the blueprint for modern education (read about that here, here, and here), and has always served as the primary advocate for basic economic fairness.

WHAT COULD CHURCH RULE LOOK LIKE?

The Church “cannot and must not replace the State” (quote from Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical). After all, there is a separation between God and Caesar, as evidenced by Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20. But that does not mean that the Church cannot act as the final arbiter in important matters.

Church rule could work a little like Iran’s system. (Try not to cringe about the comparison.) The Supreme Leader of Iran only involves himself with matters that either relate directly to his religious beliefs or concern important government appointments. He typically does not bother himself with normal, everyday things. Under this theoretical system, the Pope (and/or his delegates, if a regional system were preferred) would essentially act in the same capacity, only on a global scale. This would also be technically similar to the U.K.’s system, which requires royal assent (approval from the monarch) before bills passed by Parliament can become law.

Under the theoretical system, the Church would not usurp the State (as some might fear), but rather, enlighten it. The Church would actively serve as the cornerstone for ethics in the public and private spheres.

In Her theoretical leadership role, the Church would provide moral and economic stability. Finally, abortion, euthanasia, gay “marriage,” and other societal ills could be ended. Finally, the world could experience the economic principles contained in Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, etc. Finally, we could have peace.

I know what some are thinking: Wouldn’t such a system be open to abuse?

The answer is: of course, like all systems are. But while clergy make mistakes, they rarely do so with the sort of nonchalance that politicians often do.

For example, in 2012, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol at a police checkpoint in San Diego. An officer who was at the scene told The Associated Press, “He was a driver that was obviously impaired but he was quite cordial and polite throughout. He was not a belligerent drunk at all … There were no problems with him throughout the night.” The archbishop spent the night in custody, then immediately apologized and asked forgiveness.

Compare that with the infamous Sen. Ted Kennedy and his “Chappaquiddick Incident.”

 

I long for the days of St. Ambrose, a bishop of Milan, who excommunicated Emperor Theodosius for the emperor’s reprehensible actions. In response, the emperor bowed to authority and did penance. If only our leaders today were as humble.

People might call me “overzealous,” or an “Ultramontanist,” but I simply want to bring Christ fully to the world.

 

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Atheists, Agnostics, and the Search for Meaning

Last week over at Why I’m Catholic we posted Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story from Atheist to Catholic. Since it’s gone up it has manage to make a few rounds in some atheist circles who take issue with one of Jennifer’s main points in the article, that as an Atheist she always struggled with meaning.

Although I can’t speak on Jennifer’s behalf I can add my own two cents from my own experiences as an agnostic.

When I was in high school I encountered the quote by British philosopher John Stuart Mill:

“it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

Although I didn’t agree with his utilitarian conclusions, this idea had a profound impact on me and at an early age. I decided that I would always strive to live in the truth, even if it was disagreeable to my own sense of fulfillment and joy.

In college after studying many of the modern philosophers who championed subjectivity and skepticism I found myself at a crossroads. On one hand was my upbringing in Catholicism, and on the other was what seemed to be solid arguments as to why belief in God was unreasonable, at least to the degree that I couldn’t prove His existence from my own subjective experience and knowledge.

I never actively tried to commit suicide as an agnostic, but I would not have cared whether I lived or died. It was a very dark time in my life.

One of the responses to Jennifer’s testimony makes the point that “life is meaningful because it seems meaningful.” The assertion that followed really surprised me:

“Epistemic best practices recommend treating “life has meaning” as a more-or-less self-evident, non-conditional proposition”

Really? That seems so strange to me for a skeptic to assume such a large issue. Maybe it’s due to my lack of a doctorate in philosophy but it sure seems like meaning is no simple a priori concept like “2 + 2 = 4”, “all bachelors are unmarried.” I’d like to raise a few questions from this “self evident” conclusion:

Why assume meaning?

Can meaning for one person come from something different than meaning does for another?

What happens when the sources of our meaning get in the way of one another’s?

If a group finds meaning in power or hedonism, how does this group’s pursuit of meaning take shape in a society at large?

Does human life have inherent dignity? Where does it come from and who does it extend to?

If someone would have told me that my life had meaning as an agnostic because I could inherently accept it as having meaning I would have told them they were being intellectually dishonest. I simply can’t see how one can assign meaning to an action or life anymore than one can assign goodness.

A life with a priori meaning seems a lot like putting makeup on a pig and calling it Socrates.

Here are some links to some other commentary on Jennifer’s post if you would like to join in the discussion:

Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast

Big Think

Truth Plus Lies

Not Not a Philosopher