Tag Archives: Peter Kreeft

Making Sense of Suffering

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

Why do we suffer?

I’ve wrestled with this question and with God for a long, long time. It’s still a struggle sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit.

If God is so good, and if God loves me like He says He does, then WHY do I have to fight a chronic illness? Why do I have to watch my family members suffer? Why did my grandfather have to die a slow death from cancer? Why did my grandmother have to suffer so much with loneliness and illness? Why did her death have to be slow and painful, too?

I’ve never understood suffering. The first time I came face to face with people telling me that suffering is redemptive is when my husband (who was at that time my boyfriend) lost his mother unexpectedly. I read things about suffering. Catholic things. Things written by literal saints.  They told me that suffering — the pain of losing someone, the pain of seeing someone else hurt, and your own hurt be it physical or emotional — can bring you closer to God. It’s redemptive and salvific.

But suffering didn’t do that for me — it didn’t bring me closer to God. Instead, it made me quite frustrated, and even mad at Him.

This was not just a battle I faced every so often, when a big life event like someone becoming sick, hurt, or dying occurred. No, this was something I faced every month for the past several years as I battled the effects of endometriosis and severe PMS (medically diagnosed as PMDD, which goes WAY beyond typical premenstrual mood swings) plaguing me every four weeks and many, many days in between.

Relentless pain, emotional turmoil, and at times, the feeling of being incredibly depressed for days that interrupted almost every facet of my life and relationships. It made me constantly say WHY, God, WHY do I have to deal with this, when you could so easily will it away? Is this fun to you? Am I just not faithful enough, tough enough, strong enough to deal with this, because this sucks so much?

My dislike — no, loathing — of suffering went on until a few months ago when after it looked like just about every feasible medical option for treating the ridiculous effects of this awful illness had been tried and found wanting. That’s when, by God’s grace, I finally relented in my anger and took this struggle to the foot of the Cross. I prayed that if this was a struggle I had to deal with, that God would give me the grace to carry it better. That He would help me understand this Cross and have peace with why I had to carry it. Just as with St. Paul wrote, that God won’t take away the thorn in our side, but He’ll give us the grace to deal with it: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My answer, my help in understanding this suffering and all others came in the form of a talk by none other than Fulton Sheen.

I watched a clip of him giving a talk, in his lofty, articulate, awesome voice about a time he had a toothache as a child. To paraphrase, he was a young boy and he HATED going to the dentist. But he developed a severe toothache — an abscess, even. He hid it from his father as long as he possibly could to put off going to the dentist, which he HATED and wanted to avoid at all costs. But his father eventually found out. And took him to the dentist.

Now, mind you, this was the dentist’s office in like the early 1900s. So you can imagine the kind of suffering that went on in there when you came in with an abscessed tooth. Fulton Sheen talked about how, as the dentist began to work on fixing his tooth, Sheen became so upset at his father, wondering why he wasn’t helping him, protecting him, sheltering him from this immense suffering of the dentist treating his tooth.

At the time, as a child, it didn’t make sense to him. But his father knew that ultimately, even if he protected his son from this momentary suffering of going to the dentist, which he really hated and didn’t want to do, it would be very bad, would result in even more suffering, and at that point in time could eventually have caused serious illness or death if left untreated.

Fulton Sheen’s father allowed him temporary suffering for his ultimate good.

And it sort of clicked after I listened to this story. God doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer no more than Fulton Sheen’s father enjoyed watching his little boy writhe in pain in the dentist’s chair. For Fulton Sheen, his father allowed suffering because it was for the good of his ultimate health. For us, God allows suffering because it’s for the good of our souls.

When I heard suffering presented in this way, I was able to finally pray, Lord I don’t like this suffering. In fact, I HATE IT. But if this is for the betterment of my soul, I trust in you, I trust that you, the loving Father that you are, know what is best for me, and that you’ll give me the grace to bear it.

It became so much easier to carry that cross.

Peter Kreeft wrote, in Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Nothing more powerfully helps us to bear pain than the realization that God wills it.” And I can say that in my own life I have experienced that this is true.

Not more fun — as the struggle was and still is definitely there. And I. don’t. like. it. But seeing it as something God allows for my ultimate good — something that can help me grow in faith for the sake of my eternal salvation — helped make me less bitter and more at peace.

I was challenged again by this as I watched my grandmother suffer in her last few weeks of life. And in watching my family members suffer, too, as they experienced her suffering at her side. Those questions crept back: Why, God, why do you allow her to suffer so much? Why can’t you just take the pain away?

But I am not God. So I don’t know why these things happen. But He does know why. And His ways are higher than mine. And just as Christ’s suffering led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, God allows our suffering to bear the fruit of our redemption — even though we probably can’t see it now or even until after our own death.

Our sufferings here on Earth make sense if we trust that there is something after this earthly life. If there’s nothing after that, then suffering means nothing. It is just endless pain and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But if there is something beyond this, as Jesus promised and as the Church teaches, then our suffering has so much meaning. Because God wills it for sake of our eternal salvation.

Peter Kreeft also wrote, “… God in His wisdom wills that we suffer because He sees that we need it for our own deepest, truest, most lasting good, or the good of someone else.” For our own deepest, truest, and most lasting good. May this truth help us to take suffering to the cross, and say Lord, use this to mold my heart even more into Yours so that I may spend eternity with You.

_____

Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Challenging God

James 4:13-17, Psalm 49, Mark 9:38-40

God cannot be an object of our concepts. We are His creatures, not the other way round. St. James writes: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:14). Indeed, we are nothing; and yet — we all have a purpose on earth: to fulfill God’s Divine plan. The meaning of our lives therefore, is to seek out that purpose with all our hearts. That is why St. James goes on to affirm: “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Yesterday, I had a session with an angry client who kept questioning God. ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’, ‘Why did God allow this evil to happen?’, ‘Why do bad things only happen to me?’. I think I heard a total of about twenty ‘Whys’ in that short 10 minutes of his ranting.

I fully empathize with everyone and anyone who is suffering. We cannot think when we are overwhelmed emotionally; especially while experiencing such irascible emotions like anger, frustration and pain. However, once we are calm and reasonable; we could look into the ‘Whys’, for they are good questions that deserve good answers.

Of course, Jesus never loses. In all instances when He was challenged, Jesus manifests His divinity powerfully by REVERSING the relationship in which his questioners put on Him (Peter Kreeft).

“Shall we stone the adulteress or not?”— “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”—”Give God what is God’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“Who is my neighbor?”—”Go and be a neighbor, like the good Samaritan.”

Whenever we try to test Jesus, he tests us. He is the teacher and we are the students, not vice versa. Sometimes, we only need to simply look at our wretched and broken lives to find out what went wrong. Have we truly been walking in Faith and obeying the Commandments of God? Do we thank God secretly for blessings but curse Him when bad things happen to us? Do we live hedonistic lifestyles and then complain when things come crashing down? Areas we should all reflect on today!

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Originally posted on Instagram. Image: PD-US

The Treasure of Sin?

Some of us (me definitely included) fall into despair sometimes when we believe that we are too damned.

"The confession" by Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750
The Confession, Pietro Longhi, ca. 1750

We detest sin — as we all should! — but we detest sin not because we desire the good, but we detest it out of frustration, out of a belief that God might not forgive us again.

Peter Kreeft in his book Three Philosophies of Life talks about the Treasure of Sin and he has basically given me hope again!

Wait. What?! Sin? A treasure? Yes, read on.

“But we are all philosophers, unless we are animals. Men live not just in the present but also in the future. We live by hope. Our hearts are a beat ahead of our feet. Half of us is already in the future; we meet ourselves coming at us from up ahead. Our lives are like an arc stretching out to us from the future into the present. Our hopes and ideals move our present lives. Animals’ lives are like an arc coming to them out of their past; they are determined by their past. They are pushed; we are pulled. They are forced; we are free. They are only instinct, heredity, and environment; we are more; we are persons.

The determinists, from Marx and Freud to Skinner, who deny this fact, insult us infinitely more than any preacher who shouts sin and damnation at us. It is a great compliment to call a man a sinner. Only a free man can be a sinner. The determinists mean to steal from us the great treasure of sin. They deny us our freedom, and therefore our hope, our ability to live not just from our determined past but also from our undetermined future.”

— Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, p. 29

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Resolutions and Virtues Part 2: Virtues as Moral Help

In my previous column, I discussed the cardinal virtues and stated that they could be of some benefit to us in keeping our New Year’s resolutions [1]. I did not, however, discuss how (or why) the virtues are beneficial t us in this way.

Wasn’t that a party?

So where do these virtues tie in to our new year’s resolutions? I have already given a brief description of which of the cardinal virtues might tie in to some of the more popular new year’s resolutions. I think that there are three more things to be said about virtues, and how they aide us in our resolutions.

The first is that the virtues are powers (ST II-II.56.1). Specifically, they are powers of the should which enable us to act as we ought. Now, the New Year’s resolutions which are more commonly made largely concern things which we ought to do, but which require some sacrifice on our part to do them. This sacrifice largely pertains to temperance: be it a sacrifice of time for doing something else that in the moment we would rather do, or of money that we are tempted to spend elsewhere, or of pleasures which we can do without. In some cases, it pertains (“in a restricted sense”, ST II-II.123.4R1) to fortitude.

GPHR 45/7702: Bernard H.B. Lange, CSC, in gym with students weightlifting.
Do you even lift?

Let us consider the very specific resolution of dieting, exercising, and losing weight. Dieting as dieting pertains to abstinence, a part of temperance. Getting up early to exercise (if in the morning) also pertains to temperance, in that it limits the pleasure of sleep. But returning to the exercising after feeling sore from the first (or hundredth) workout is an imperfect, “restricted” form of fortitude. So is cutting back portion sizes (or cutting out snacks between meals) when one feels hunger pangs. So, for that matter, is increasing a workout’s intensity (or load) when the last one seemed difficult. So much for the virtues as powers.

Second, then, is that the virtues are also habits (ST II-II.55.1-3). In considering habits in general, and virtues and vices (bad habits) in particular, the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler writes

“You know how habits get formed. To form the habit of being on time for appointments, you have to try to be punctual over and over again. Gradually, the habit of being punctual gets formed. Once it is formed, you have a firm and settled disposition to be on time in getting where you promised to be. The stronger the habit, the easier it is to act in that way and the harder it is to break the habit or to act in the opposite fashion.

When you have formed a habit and it is well-developed, you take pleasure in doing what you are in the habit of doing because you do it with ease—almost without effort. You find acting against your habits painful” (Aristotle for Everybody).

adler in libraryVirtues are habits, good moral habits, and they can help us to fight bad habits. They can, moreover, help us to develop the skills or abilities that we desire, as Adler notes in continuing his discussion:

“Having temperance enable us to resist what appears to be good in the short run for the sake of what is really good in the long run…Just as temperance is an habitual disposition to resist the lure of pleasures for the sake of more important goods that overindulgence in pleasure would prevent us from getting, so courage [fortitude] is an habitual disposition to take whatever pains may be involved in doing what we ought to do for the sake of a good life.

For example, we recognize that getting knowledge and developing certain skills are intellectual virtues that we ought to have. But acquiring knowledge and skills may be painful.Studying is often hard to do; learning how to play a musical instrument well, how t write well, or how to think well involves practicing that is often irksome” (Aristotle for Everybody).

There are several ways in which this ties into our New Year’s resolutions. For one thing, many of the resolutions in questions can be met once—and then forgotten. I can diet and exercise to lose weight, but once the weight is off, will I continue to diet and exercise to keep it off? If dieting and exercising have become habitual, and if the fortitude to face another workout and the temperance to resist the desire to stay in bed (or to have an extra helping at dinner) have all become habit, then my odds of keeping the weight off are good. I will not need to make losing the same 15 pounds my resolution again next year.

Total Money MakeoverTo pick on another resolution, consider the popular goal of saving money. For many people, this goal might as easily be stated as To pay down my debts. Now, one popular method of doing this is to use debt consolidation: a seeming short-cut to paying less money each month to get rid of old debt. Concerning this practice, popular financial advisor Dave Ramsey writes that

“Debt CONsolidation—it’s nothing more than a con because you think you’ve done something about the debt problem. The debt is still there, as are the habits that caused it; you just moved it! You can’t borrow your way out of debt. You can’t get out of a hole just by digging out the bottom. Larry Bucket says debt is not the problem; it is the symptom. I feel debt is the symptom of overspending and undersaving.

A friend of mine works for a debt-consolidation firm whose internal statistics estimate that 78 percent of the time, after someone consolidates his credit-card debt, the debt grows back. Why? He still doesn’t have a game plan to either pay cash or not buy at all, and hasn’t saved for ‘unexpected events,’ which will also become debt” (The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness).

I would emphasize here that the key point is contained here: this trick doesn’t work largely because the underlying habits which caused the problem—too much debt, in particular consumer [2] debt—are still there [3]. The same thing can be said for the latest “miracle” diet drug with respect to weight loss, or for that matter to saving water and electricity (go green) by only changing to a more efficient version of a frequently-used appliance (though this can help!). Ultimately, any of these “shortcuts” may technically help us to keep our resolutions short-term, but longer-term it will be in vain. I may save some money this year, but if I then go into debt (frivolously) next year, what have I gained? Or if I lose 15 pounds by June, and then regain them by December, is my resolution actually a success?

conan best in lifeI would like to turn now to the third, and final, thing which is left to be said about the virtues. The virtues are important to our living a moral life, that is, to living a good life. However, they are not the only thing to living a good life, and indeed the cardinal virtues are improved on by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Just as we might build upon a successfully kept resolution in our own lives, God can build upon the virtues with the gifts of and with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft writes of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance:

“These four are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word for ‘hinge.’ Al other virtues hinge on these four. That includes lesser virtues, which are corollaries of these, and aso greater virtues (the three ‘theological virtues’), which are the flower of these.

These four virtues are not the only virtues, or even the highest ones. As Einstein surpassed Newton, Jesus most certainly surpassed Plato. But just as Einstein did not contradict Newton but included him, presupposed him, and built on him, so Jesus’ supernatural virtues do not contradict Plato’s virtues but presuppose them. Plato gives us virtue’s grammar; Jesus gives us virtues’ poetry….

Of course natural [e.g. the cardinal] virtues are real virtues, just as natural reason is real reason and natural beauty is real beauty.

True, it does not save you [to be virtues in the merely natural sense]. You do not get to heaven by being a little more just, wise, courageous, and temperate, That is not enough. But it is good.

It is also a foundation for the supernatural virtues, which do get your to Heaven. A person who is unjust, foolish, cowardly, and uncontrolled will find it harder to believe, to hope in, or to love God. The natural virtues are the seedbed, soil, or fertilizer for the flower of supernatural virtue [e.g. the theological virtues]. Ethics is preparatory to religion, because ‘the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ'” (Back to Virtue).

Slapping Batman Pelagianism nd virtueI include this long passage because because it show that we need not stop with cultivating the natural virtues: we in fact ought to allow God to cultivate in us the supernatural ones. God does in fact build on whatever foundation we lay, if we will allow him to [4]. Venerable Louis of Grenada writes that

“The gifts of the Holy Ghost also facilitate the operations of the virtues, animating them and strengthening them so that they will always be ready for the performance of their proper acts. Faith, hope, and charity are perfected by the gifts of wisdom and understanding; prudence, by the gifts of knowledge and counsel; justice, by the gift of piety; fortitude, by the gift of fortitude; and temperance, by the fear of the Lord” (Summa of the Christian Life).

In a similar manner, we can build on the success of keeping our New Year’s resolutions. If you ultimately want to lose 40 pounds, start with the goal of losing 15, then try for another 25 next year when that is successful. Or if you only lose 5, try to loose another 15 pounds next year. If your goal is to save up a third of your income as an emergency fund, but you save up only half of this, make saving up a third your goal next year (and then you will have a slightly more substantial emergency fund).

Remember that these New Year’s resolutions are not in themselves sufficient to make us truly happy in life, or truly fulfilled, or successful. Neither are the natural virtues by themselves sufficient to make us happy, nor saintly, nor will they get us into heaven. But, just as the New Year’s resolution (and its keeping) is a good start,so are the virtues a good start for us. They will make it easier for us to keep our resolutions, and to better our own lives. More importantly, they will enable us to allow God to work in our lives in such a way that we are able to live a good life in this world and enter into the joy of heaven in the next.

 

—-Footnotes—-
[1] Once, these may have been “Lenten Resolutions!”

[2] Consumer debt—there’s also student loan debt, and the mortgage. These are topics for another day, but it seems to me that there is a difference in habit between the poor college student who is $25k in debt from paying for tuition and the one who sailed through with scholarships but wracked up $20 k in debt from buying the latest in consumer electronics, etc.

[3] Dave Ramsey also notes that many of these loan consolidation companies do lower your monthly payments, in exchange for extending the period of the loan. This means that while the monthly payment may be a bit less, the period over which the payment is to be made will be extended by years, and so the total amount paid may also be greater. It’s also more difficult to attack debt one item at a time when all the debt is consolidated into a single large loan.

[4] He even offers us the perfect foundation, who is Christ.

The Trouble with Transhumanism

Transhumanism is a desperate belief system that grasps at technological straws. But the raw desperation in that grasping has the potential–like all Utopian movements–to unleash violently destructive forces. Caveat emptor.” (Wesley J. Smith).

There are a number of pressing issues in the broad realm of bioethics. Abortion may well be the biggest bone of contention in heated argument or friendly debate. However, everything from stem cell research, to cloning and in vitro fertilization, to doctor-assisted suicide (a herald for euthanasia), to the creation chimera and the growth of human organs in animals, to the existence of three-parent children rightly falls under this purview. Eugenics may be a topic of the past—it now has a bad name thanks to the Nazis, who allowed it mask to slip in an evil regime—but it re-surfaces in what may be a major topic for bioethics in the future, which is the idea of transhumanism, and its intended end in posthumanism. As such, there cannot be a “Christian Transhumanism” anymore than there is such a thing as “Christian abortion” or “Christian euthanasia” or “Christian eugenics,” whatever are or have been the attempts to reconcile a Christian morality with these evils. Indeed, I have seen all of the above evils at one time or another included among the means that Tranhumanism might utilize to seek its goal.

Scientists
Behold, science! Image source.

What is the goal of Transhumanism, then? Nominally, it is the betterment of human life, although a number of its proponents are as interested in ending human life—in the sense of ending humanity and ushering in posthumanity [1]—as they are “bettering” it. Let us leave aside these charges: not all in the Transhumanist movement necessarily desire it to lead to posthumanism; many just want to see lives prolonged, aging slowed or halted, and other natural physical, mental, and psychological limitations overcome.

To what extent are these aims moral, and at what point (if any) do they become immoral? There are a few obvious answers here:

  • If the means used to achieve any of these seemingly noble ends are themselves evil, then then the whole project becomes immoral. Thus, if eugenics, cloning-for-organ-harvesting, or abortion-for-stem-cells become the methods used, then whatever small gains we may achieve pale next to the evil means used to achieve those ends.

  • If the ends themselves lead to some evil results, then we should be given some pause. For example, suppose that life extension enables us to live to be “old as Methuselah”–will we continue to welcome with abundance our future generations?

  • If immortality in this life becomes the goal, will we forget that we are but sojourners in this world, that we are meant for another?

  • If a perfected body in this life becomes a near-realty, will we forget that our bodies were meant to die, to return to dust—and only then to be resurrected and glorified and perfected?

Even a longer life is still a finite one. We will still face death–will we do it with hope in the next life? Source.

These last two questions, at least, lead to one of the fundamental moral problems of Transhumanism, which is that is seeks as so many philosophies and movements have ever sought, to replace the rule of God with the rule of man. To borrow a phrase from Voegelin, it looks to immanentize the eschaton, this time with technology rather than economics or politics or schooling.

The goal of the Transhumanist movement is finally to transcend the limitations of our human nature. This is implied in the very name of the movement. The result of doing this is therefore to move beyond our human nature—to become post-human—but to do this by technology and not grace. And, as C.S. Lewis has warned in The Abolition of Man, while these ends may appear to be man’s final mastery over nature, they will inevitably ultimately involve the mastery of some men over all other men, with nature and technology as the instruments of control.

What of the more basic goals of Transhumanism: ending suffering, prolonging life or even ending death, and in general enhancing or physical and mental abilities or remedying our limitations? Each of these is or can be a noble goal in itself. There is nothing wrong with, for example, relieving pain, no moral proscription against Tylenol and Advil or even Morphine to limit our physical agonies [2]. On the other hand, physical pain is quite probably the least of our sufferings. As Peter Kreeft has noted, ours is the culture with the greatest ability to medicinally eliminate pain, and thus the least able to tolerate it; and we are among the least happy of civilizations, as measured by the “casual” suicide rate [3].

ManOnBench
Suffering is not all pointless. We can learn wisdom from our suffering, and it can lead to contemplating life in the next world. Image source.

Nor is all suffering pointless. Obviously, nobody likes to suffer, and we do not enjoy the suffering itself (nor should we). But suffering has a moral purpose, and it is not only to punish us for the evils we have done. Perhaps the greatest of all suffering is the suffering of loss, and perhaps the most difficult to stand is the closely-related suffering of unfulfilled longing. Both types have a strong moral purpose, which is to remind us that although we are in this world we are not of it. We are meant to transcend this world, but not by our own power. We are meant to die in this life, so that we can be born in the next.

Death is not a barrier to be overcome or a foe to be conquered by us—Christ has already done this for us—and while we do not rejoice in death for death’s sake, nor should we fear it. Death is instead the thing which gives finality to this life, a sign which points us to our true home in heaven: we are to some extent guests or tenants here, and we will all eventually be asked to leave to our own homes. Rather than conquering death with technology—a proposition of which I am quite skeptical [4]—we should instead live life well, and prepare for a good death. Saint Joseph, pray for us!

—-Foonotes—-

[1] Posthumanism is loosely described as the ideal that humankind should take the next evolutionary step forward and ceases to be Home sapiens. Nevermind that this is not evolution per se. It is the idea that we should re-create humanity as something else, something better, again nevermind that “we” do not know who gets to decide what counts as “better.”

[2] Provided this is done responsibly—there is something immoral about an addiction, and certain pain-killers can be very addicting.

[3] As opposed to ritual or “honorable” suicide.

[4] Among other things, I suspect that this would involve a violation of such things as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I am apparently not alone in this assessment.

For the Love of a Dog

_DSC0090 I recently said good-bye to my 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Hudson.

He passed away on August 20th, hours before my new husband and I moved to   Michigan to begin our life together.

There are many aspect to Hudson’s death that I have contemplated over the last few days. My history with dogs, especially Hudson, made his death that much more poignant. Anyone who knows me, my upbringing, or my history with dogs, understands as much.

Anyone who knew Hudson understands the very special way he interacted with the world, and anyone who knew the two of us together understand that he was more than a fuzzy head that played ball and got ear scratches. His life and death were unique. God spoke to me and worked in my life in many ways by having that dog. I am blessed to have had him in my life.

While I would love to delve into the multitude of topics that his passing has brought up, I only have time for one.

I remember a few years ago at college, a Catholic girl I was speaking with said something along the lines of “ugh. I can’t stand animals.”

Taken aback, I responded sarcastically, “there’s something seriously wrong with you if you don’t like animals!”

“They’re not as important as people,” she replied matter-of-factly, and walked away.

I was stunned for the rest of the day. It’s one thing to get bitten by a dog and, therefore, not like dogs. Or fall off of a horse and not like horses. But to blatantly, across the board, dislike animals? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Especially coming from such an animal-loving home.

My mother always taught us that there are plenty of ways to be pro-life. You don’t have to have 13 kids and plaster Crisis Pregnancy Center bumper stickers on your car to be pro-life. To be pro-life, we in the Smith household understood, meant to love and nurture all life. That, yes, people are and always will be more important than animals, but in practicing proper dominion over animals, showing them proper care, we are caring for a life that God deemed fit to make. In that sense, by loving and serving animals, we were being very pro-life.

If God decided that it was a life worth making, then it was definitely a life worth caring for. To despise animals, then, seems to slap God in the face. To tell Him “that aspect of creation isn’t worth it.” Who are we to say that to the God of the universe?

My understanding of dominion lead me to love animals and to strive to have them in my life in any way possible. Then Hudson entered my life, and my understanding of animal love changed.

I’m sure everyone has had that “one special bond” with an animal, and Hudson was that animal. His undying love and faithfulness, I decided, couldn’t possibly be simply a fluke of genetics. You couldn’t just breed a dog to love the way Hudson loved.

Whether I am right or not is another question, but one thing is certain, I grew to know God better because of my relationship with Hudson. He reflected God’s love in a way no one had before and I began to think about creation in a new way.

All of creation reflects God in some way, shape, or form. Just as hand-woven baskets reflect the weaver, or paintings reflect aspects of the painter, so too does creation reflect the God and Lord we worship. Flowers reflect Hislove of beauty, gentleness, and colorfulness. Trees reflect His grace and strength. People are made in His image – reflecting His relationship, love, logic, morality, creativity, complexity.

And then there are animals. Animals – sentient creatures that cannot talk, communicate, or reason as people do. Sentient creatures that are not on par with God’s magnum opus of mankind. Animals reflect that sentient part of God that is simple.

Especially dogs.

People always talk about the love of a dog as “special.” “Man’s best friend” didn’t earn his title by mistake. People know there is something different in the bond of a man with his dog. I don’t believe that is an accident.

If, as the Church teaches, every man – regardless of religious background, formation, or faith – has a desire for God, then there is in some part of us the ability to see God. Even if we are capable of only seeing a reflection of God, we still have a “God compass” that searches and points to Him so that when we see something beautiful or have a meaningful relationship with someone or something, a part of us can say “that was not for nothing; that comes from something greater.”

I believe God gave humanity dogs for just that purpose.

In a unique way, dogs reflect the way God loves us. Dogs always love us – they don’t care what mood we’re in, what we’re wearing, how tired we are, how successful we were at class or at work. Just as God delights in loving us, in giving us His Sacred Heart, so too IMG_2067dogs delight in showing us affection and giving us their hearts. People talk about the unconditional love of a dog – where else did they learn it, but by having such open and unconditional love placed in their hearts by God?

Men are not always open to letting God love them, but they are open to allowing dogs to love them. St. Thomas Aquinas and Peter Kreeft have both argued that angels come to us, not only in human form, but in animal form too. If this is so, then I believe they must come as dogs most often. If angels are messengers of the Lord, what better way to communicate God’s love for us than in the warm, brown eyes of a dog?

Dogs never care how long you’re gone. They’re just glad that you’re back. So too, God doesn’t care how long we’re gone from Him, how long we stay outside of His love. He simply delights in our homecoming.

A dog doesn’t sit at the door and ask “what took so long??” He simply wiggles and cries and licks and sheds and climbs all over you because it’s just the best thing in the world that you’re back. So too God rejoices in our homecoming – it’s simply the best thing in the world that we’re back in His love.

And, this love of God’s is so great, that He will go to any extent to be with His people – even sacrifice His only Son, if only to be with His people.

How often do dogs do the same? All they ever want is to be with their people. They’ll wait by the door, in the car, in the lawn, patiently just for you to come home. Sometimes they can’t wait to see their people and they sacrifice themselves for it – running into streets, jumping in to frozen ponds, or bolting through fences because they don’t care what the risk is – they just have to be with their people.

There are plenty of reasons why people love having dogs in their lives. But something that is so universally loved, so universally special, must reflect something greater. The loyalty and love in a dog are remarkable because they come from the one being who is wholly loyal, wholly loving. Dogs were given the task of making God’s love of mankind known every day, and they do a fantastic job of it.

So, yes, animals are not as important as people. But any creature that can so perfectly demonstrate God’s undying love for us and direct us back to the divine deserves all the love mankind can spare.

Scientistic Dogma and the Soul

Concerning dogma there are, as Chesterton observed, two kinds of people: those who recognize that they rely on it, and those who don’t. It is the latter who are often the more dogmatic in the sense that is so often decried. Such is most certainly true of the scientistic set, and especially of those who would be physical materialists [1]. Foremost among their dogma is that only that which can be found through the five senses is real—or perhaps more broadly, only that which can be measured and quantified exists.

They have attempted to describe all reality, all existence, in emperiological [2] terms, forgetting all the while that such things as “existence,” “being,” and “reality” are not themselves purely emperiological. One result of this is the occasional “forgetting” of things which we know as people qua people, that is, of things which might be classed as knowledge—or at the very least that form of opinion which is so well grounded as to be nearly identical with knowledge [3]. I am referring to our so-called “common knowledge,” “common sense,” or “common experiences” [4]. In his book The Science Before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century, Dr Anthony Rizzi makes a distinction between “proper” and “improper” knowledge [5]:

“In common usage, knowledge can mean anything we take as relatively certain for whatever reason. We can call this knowledge in the improper sense. I have knowledge proper only when I come to conclusions based on facts and principles that I have personally ‘seen’ and, if required, based on a chain of reasoning that I have walked through myself. Belief in the generic sense means having a level of probable, but not certain, conviction that is usually largely based on the word of another.”

He then proceeds to make the case that much of (modern) science is based on improper knowledge. Some of it is even based on belief. Indeed, much of scientific progress relies in the short term (and often the long term as well) on the “belief” that the scientific community has in the data (and results, conclusions) reported by some set of scientists who conduct the experiment in question [6], though in the case of science there is more involved than merely trusting the “testimony”of the scientist who report the results of their experiments [7]. In his Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, Professor Edward Feser states that

“a serious problem with the idea that science is merely in the business of establishing regularities on the basis of observation is that the sorts of regularities that the hard science tend to uncover are rarely observed, and in fact are in ordinary circumstances impossible to observe. Beginning students of physics quickly become acquainted with idealizations like the notion of a frictionless surface, and with the fact that laws like Newton’s law of gravitation strictly speaking describes the behavior of bodies only in the circumstance where no interfering forces are acting on them, a circumstance which never actually holds. Moreover, physicists do not in fact embrace a regularity as a law of nature only after many trials, after the fashion of popular presentations in inductive reasoning. Rather, they draw their conclusions from a few highly specialized experiments conducted under artificial conditions.”

Add to this the expense of building many scientific experiments (I am thinking not only of the multi-billion dollar machines like the LHC or the ITER device, but also of the multi-million dollar price tag of many modern research labs on a small scale), and suddenly the testimony of witnesses becomes very important to the scientific enterprise. So how do we verify whether or not a witness’s testimony is worthy of belief? In his The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy, Mortimer J Adler first gives a brief definition of truth (it is the correspondence of the mind with reality), and then suggests four possible tests of truth:

  1. Whether a judgment (or prediction) turns out to be right
  2. Whether a negative example can be found concerning a generalization
  3. Whether the principle has inner coherence (and unity)
  4. Whether the theory is simple and elegant yet clear and comprehensive.

So where does that leave us concerning science, dogma, and scientistic dogma? Let’s return to the chief scientistic dogma: only that which can be measured and quantified exists. I mentioned before that this is rather dogmatic, and so it is. But is it true? Answering this question would require a short book to do thoroughly, but in brief can be done by asking whether this dogma satisfies the second test of truth. Is there something which is unmeasurable, unquantifiable, and yet which exists?

Does anyone believe that our identity is sucked away with the atoms we lose due to wear-and-tear? Yet this would be the logical consequence of the contention that we are just a collection of atoms.

No scientific experiment has ever measured such things as the human soul that is the thing which makes me myself and you yourself and which is the principle of life. There have been some attempts—as by Prof. Bertrand Russell—to do away with the soul as unmeasured, unmeasurable (the soul is a form and therefore is by definition immaterial), and therefore non-existent. The result is the claim that each of us is merely a collection of random particles. It is a claim which is false-to facts, as we do not say that our identities change if we gain or lose a few such particles from the collection; as the eminent British physicist and Anglican clergyman Dr John Polkinghorne notes in his Science and Theology: An Introduction, “The atoms in each of us are being continually changed by eating and drinking, wear and tear. They cannot be the source of our experience of a continuing self.”

Indeed, since some of the atoms which are currently a part of me may in the future be a part of you, it is clear that these atoms cannot contain within themselves the principle of our identity [8]. For that matter, we know that the mere collection of atoms which are in our bodies does not give us our identity, either: there is, for example, some period of time after I eat an apple and yet before it has been digested, yet none would claim that the undigested apple has yet become a part of my identity [9]! It is a part of our “common knowledge” or “common experience” that we know that we are not an apple, or that the apple is not a substantial (as opposed to accidental) part of us as we eat it.

Likewise, we know, as a matter of common sense and common experience, that we are not just the atoms of which we are composed, that though our body (as a whole) is a part of us [10], we are not only the body. In his Three Approaches to Abortion, Professor Peter Kreeft makes a 15-step case against abortion which begins with knowing what an apple is. The fourth of these steps is that we know what human beings are:

“Our fourth principle is that we know that we are, that we know what human beings are. If we know what an apple is, surely we know what a human being is. For we are not apples. We do not live as apples. We do not feel what apples feel, if they feel anything. We do not experience the existence or growth or life of apples. Yet we know what an apple is…All the more, then, we know what we are; for we have ‘inside information,’ privileged information, more and better data here.”

Granted, there is plenty that we do not know about ourselves, speaking either singularly (myself, yourself) or collectively (humanity)–a point which Dr Kreeft himself acknowledges; but there is still much more we know about humans and humanity than we know about apples and “appleness.” We know what it is to be a human being, but we only know about apples: we have more of both the common and special knowledge concerning humanity than we ever could have about apples. And what we do know suggests that we are more than a collection of atoms. This is very nearly self-evident, as even our language attests: for I can claim it as my language, and you can claim it as yours, all while speaking in the singular, and using the singular pronoun. I am a unity of body and soul, which is to say that I am one and not many, not even merely a collective. Body and soul are two sides of the same coin, then, as form and matter are both necessary for any material object; indeed, the soul is the form of the body. Saint Thomas Aquinas instructs us of this when he writes that

Aquinas gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “I knew because a little bird told me…”

“A second division is according as substance is divided into matter and form and composite. Matter indeed is that which in itself is not a definite thing (hoc aliquid). Form is that thanks to which the thing is now actual. The composed substance is a definite thing. That is called a definite thing (hoc aliquid) which can be pointed out as complete in being and kind and, among material things, this is true only of the composed substance…The difference between matter and form is this: that matter is potential being, and form is entelechy, that is the act whereby the matter comes to be actually, such that the composite being actually is” (Commentary on De Anima, Book 2, lesson 1, quoted in Prof Ralph McInerny’s A first Glance at St Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists).

Professor McInerny, for his part, notes that our “soul is that whereby we primarily live, perceive, and think,” and that “knowledge of it emerges from an analysis of change.” That is to say, we know that we have a soul because though my body may change (e.g. by losing a few atoms to “wear and tear,” and then replenishing these by eating), I do not, that is, my identity remains the same.

Scientists pride themselves on their study of “actual beings.” This much is certain. But note that an actual being is a composite of form and matter (matter without form would be “prime matter,” and form without matter would be an angel or God), so that scientists must be studying mostly matter-form composites; we might quibble over how to define the beings of reason—mathematical entities—used by scientists, but the point of modern physics is the study of the material universe. So science presupposes form, even if it thereafter attempts to ignore it.

So the existence of the soul is not contrary to science, any more than the existence of any form is. In fact, form is presupposed by modern science, and so modern science cannot disprove its existence. A corollary of this is that modern science cannot disprove the existence of the soul. Taking this a step further, the enterprise of science relies on the trusting of eyewitness reports of observed data, largely in the case of special experiences. These experiences may not be so specialized as those described by Dr Feser, yet they are still “special,” in that the scientists involved must conduct some experiment to gather data, whether the experiment is simple (e.g. dropping a ball and timing its fall) or complex (e.g. searching for the infamous and enigmatic Higgs Boson).

But if the scientist is to trust eyewitness reporting of specialized experiments—that is, of “special experience”—then he cannot retain consistency when he becomes suspicious of “common experiences” attested to by the whole of mankind. He cannot trust in the reliability of specialized observations if he does not irst trust in the reliability of generalized observations. The dogmatic conclusion of scientism that there is no soul because the souls is not measurable by science is a conclusion which begins with principles which undermine science itself. It denies the common experience of mankind that there is something more to being human than merely being a collection of atoms—that is, it ultimately denies the self [11]. Scientism thus fails at the very least Adler’s third test of truth—that of inner coherence—by causing science to deny one of its own prerequisites. As for the scientistic dogma that there exists nothing which cannot be measured, it likewise fails (at least) the second test of truth: for the existence of substantial forms in general and the soul in particular provide an example of something existing which is unmeasurable. Those of the scientistic mindset would therefore be well-advised to heed the assertion which Charles de Koninck makes in his The Hollow Universe:

“In plain English, what are we asserting? That the physicist need not know what a man is any more than the shipping agent weighing trunks need be aware of what is in them. Far less, in fact. To the physicist, Mr. Smith is part and parcel of the shadowy world of symbols; and how else can a physicist treat Mr Smith? Indeed, it would mean a much closer approach to what Mr. Smith is to state that he can be turned into a good soap—which is a demonstrable fact. So all we ask is that the mathematical physicist realize what his science presupposes: that if he wishes to deal with men he cannot permit himself the use of words. It is precisely the improper use of words which makes [Bertrand] Russell’s statement concerning Mr Smith [that he is no more than a collection of atoms] so delightfully comic.”

Or, in the words of the late Fr Stanley L Jaki, he must beware the limits of his limitless science.

 

Footnotes

[1] Or “physicalists,” to distinguish them from (for example) the Marxist/economic materialists.

[2] In his The Science Before Science, physicist Anthony Rizzi—a man who is worthy also of the title philosopher—gives the following definition for empiriological knowledge:

“That tool of a broader science, e.g. Physica, that makes heavy use of being of reaon to bring sensorial data under certain organizational principles, especially in such a way as to maximally predict outcomes. It both reflects and hides in varying degrees the underlying real being which is the ultimate cause of the relations and properties seen. It usually considers the average featres of many things, ratehr than the essential features of a given thing. The emperiological method contrasts with ontological methodology, for the latter has the aim of understanding the essence of things; what things are. The result of emperiological science is usually a puzzle waiting to be understood ontologically.”

Doctor Rizzi further divides emperiological knowledge (or the emperiological approach to knowledge) into two subcategories: the emperiometric (the primary mode of operation of modern physics) and the emperioschematic (an approach applied sometimes/often in biology, in which empirically obtained information is organized into schemas).

[3] And here there is a distinction to be mad between what the Greeks called “episteme” (idealized knowledge) and “doxa” (knowledge which retains some shadow of doubt). In his The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy (pages 31-32), Mortimer J Adler notes that

“The judgment that all swans are white is falsified by one negative instance—the perceptual experience of one black swan. Generalizations that time and time again are exposed to the possibility of falsification by contrary perceptual experience and escape such falsification are correctly judged by us to be true knowledge with an increasing degree of probability but they never attain certitude. They always remain in the sphere of doubt. They are never beyond the shadow of doubt.”

In the footnotes to this passage, Dr Adler writes that there are a small number of self-evident truths which the Greeks would consider episteme, and much of the rest of what we “know” is what they would call doxa. In the epilogue to that book, he writes that true philosophy should be more concerned with doxa than episteme, and that one of the great philosophical mistakes was the attempt to turn doxa into episteme, which was done widely during the “modern era” of philosophy (beginning with Descartes, etc.). He discusses this in more depth in his Ten Philosophical Mistakes, and Professor Ralph McInenry also has some discussion of this in his A First Glance at St. Thomas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists, as for that matter does the previously mentioned Dr Rizzi.

[4] We might class or possible sources of data as “common experience” and “special experience.” This is done frequently by Thomistic philosophers (though I am sorry to say that I haven’t read the original work of St Thomas or, as is likely, of Aristotle in which this distinction is made). Most scientific experiments (in the modern sense) would fall under the category of “special experience,” since they are generally carried out under specialized and controlled conditions, e.g. in a laboratory to which most men do not have access. Common experience is more common to all man-kind, and in fact must be made use of in order to lay the foundation of science.

[5] See footnote [3] above; proper vs improper knowledge seems to me to be equivalent to doxa as opposed to episteme.

[6] The late Fr Stanley L Jaki, physicist ad theologian, explains this in his Miracles and Physics when he wrote that

Immediate and direct observation of things and the certainty of that observation (or at least the certainty with which it can be corrected or improved) is the rock bottom basis of not only philosophy but also of science as well….if it is impossible to start a march with the second step, concern about the laws of nature should give second place to concern man’s ability to register things and events with certainty….

Courts of all levels, governments of all jurisdiction, depend on witnesses and their plain witnessing, and so do laboratories. In none of these forums can a discrimination against plain witnessing of unusual facts be condoned or else the most important cases may be prejudged and the only avenues for progress be blocked. Had Oersted refused to believe his eyes when they noted that the magnetic needle which he placed under a live wire turned in a direction which he believed to be impossible, the discoveries of Faraday and Maxwell might not have followed as they did. The discovery of the world of atoms depended on Roentgen’s chance witnessing of the formation, that was not expected to happen, of the negative image of a key on a photographic plate. Far more importantly, would Newtonian science have happened at all if Kepler had not unconditionally trusted in Tycho Brahe’s eyes in making countless naked-eye observations about the position of the planet Mars?

[7] In his essay “The Pimacy of Common Sense,” Pierre Duhem writes:

When a sincere witness, sufficiently sober so as not to take the whims of his imagination for observation and familiar enough with the language to express his thought clearly, affirms to have registered a fact, the fact is certain. If I declare to you that on such a day, at such an hour, I saw a white horse, you must believe, unless you have reason to consider me a liar or a victim of hallucination that on that day, at that hour, in that street, there was a white horse….But…what the physicist states as the result of an experiment is not a recital of facts registered by him. It is rather an interpretation of these facts, it is their transposition into the abstract, symbolic world of theories which he considers to be well established.

Therefore, after the physicist’s testimony has been submitted to the rules which establish the degree of confidence due to the account of a witness, you have accomplished only a part, and the easier part, of the critique of his experiment.

Thus, establishing that some level of trust—some amount of belief—in the data reported by the scientist conducting the experiment is a necessary though not a sufficient step in the process of advancing science. The next step is to ensure that the scientist’s interpretation of his data as his results is sound, and from there that his conclusions actually do follow. A similar process is employed in good philosophy (or history, literary criticism, theology, etc.), allowing of course for the differences between science and philosophy (etc.) regarding how each gathers its data, the form of the data, the methods each uses in interpreting and analyzing its data, etc.

[8] Both St Augustine (City of God) and St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles) address a similar point in their discussions of the resurrection. They did not know of atoms in the same sense that we do now, but they were quite familiar with matter, and with the fact that matter must be ingested to replenish lost matter, and with for example, the existence of cannibals whose diet included the bodies of other people.

[9] At least, none would until they realized that in so doing they undermine the position of the pro-abortion movement, which by-and-large hinges on the assumption that the unborn child is somehow still a part of his mother. But this reversal of position is based less on an attempt to make the mind conform with reality than an attempt to redefine reality for the sake of convenience.

[10] Nor are we just our souls, for we are a dynamic relationship of mind, body, and spirit, or of body and soul. Take away the soul but leave the body, and the body is a corpse; take away the body and leave the soul, and we have what we call a ghost.

[11] Sometime scientistic philosophers attempt to get around this by making a dualistic assumption in which the self is like the software and the body the hardware: Cartesian mind-body dualism reborn! I will not attempt to refute this today, other than to say that it again ignores that science studies matter-form composites, and so cannot assume that such composites are non-existent, or non-composite, or separable for its purposes.