Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Pope Francis Quoting Thomas Merton

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. 

- Thomas Merton, quoted by Pope Francis in his address to the U.S. Congress

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas

When I was in Catholic grammar school, one of the parish priests, Fr. Joyce, would visit our classroom periodically and teach for an hour.  He had no prepared lesson plans that I knew of, but he loved philosophy and would sometimes teach us simplified bits of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.  In the sixth grade, he told us that Aquinas had written five proofs of the existence of God which he wrote on the blackboard.   When I read the proofs on the board, I said to myself, "No, they don't prove the existence of God to me."   I believed in the existence of God without question, but these proofs didn't persuade me.

Note that Aquinas lived in the 1200s and wrote in Latin.  When I was in my fifties, I had read an article that pointed out that the Latin word for proof was "prober," which means. "to probe."  Aquinas was not so much as proving the existence of God but probing, that is, seeking.  That insight makes all the difference.  Aquinas was not attempting to "prove" the existence of God in a mathematically logical or scientific sense.  In fact,  Aquinas says that we cannot know God without Revelation. The same article claimed that the modern usage of the word "proof" was not used, or at least was not in common usage, until after Descartes and the Enlightenment in the late 1600s.  As well, note that Aquinas did not call them Five Proofs but rather Five Ways.  The Encyclopedia Britannica does not call them proofs but rather, demonstrations.  The traditional Catholic claim of Aquinas "proving" the existence of God was an attempt to impose a post-Cartesian way of thinking on pre-Cartesian ideas.

I now appreciate the genius--the mystical genius--of Aquinas!  He was exploring the Religious Sense.  He was probing the infinite, the mysterious infinite.  Suddenly,  a doctrine which I first experienced as oppressive and authoritarian became a principle of light and freedom.  

Of course, I have had no formal education in theology, much less Aquinas.  The Wikipedia page (2018) for The Five Ways says, "Many scholars and commenters caution in treating the Five Ways as if they were modern logical proofs."  It also says, "Aquinas did not think the finite human mind could know what God is directly; therefore, God's existence is not self-evident to us.  So instead the proposition God exists must be "demonstrated"from God's effects, which are more known to us."  This is not to say that examining them in that light is not academically interesting."

The Five Ways
1. the argument from motion
2. the argument from causation
3. the argument from contingency
4. the argument from degree

5. the argument from final cause or ends

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cobbling Together a Few Thoughts on Meaning and Purpose in Life

I always struggled to understand what "they" meant by meaning and purpose in life, and I always lost the struggle.  It always sounded like, once we find our purpose, we find meaning.   But the concepts always bewildered me.   How do we find our purpose?  What does "meaning" mean?   I had always thought of purpose in a somewhat mechanical way, as in, the purpose of a car is for transportation.   And I always thought of "meaning" in a somewhat mathematical way, as in an "A" means "B."

However, the below link, to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article (of all things!), clarified these concepts for me.  By meaning they do not mean meaning but meaningful--that is satisfying and fulfilling--something entirely unmechanical and unmathematical in concept.  Furthermore, we do not arrive at meaning as a result of pursuing and discovering our purpose.  Rather, when we discover that which is meaningful and therein we find our purpose--I had it backward. Now it all makes sense!

This understanding makes sense of all the Communion and Liberation expression of the topic.  It also dovetails with what the church and C/L teaches about our desires.   Desire is very close to what is meaningful.  We desire things that our hearts see as potentially meaningful.  This understanding also underscores the importance of experience, since we really need to experience things before we can truly say they are meaningful (or not).

It has taken me 62 years to figure this out.  I feel like I can now consider myself a mature fellow traveler of  C/L (a flip comment of course).  I also feel relaxed and happy as a result of this epiphany about meaning and purpose.  And funny (charming that is) that I had this epiphany on the Feast of the Epiphany.

I've understood for a while that I've always overthought things.   And I do realize that some people might consider me an idiot--low emotional intelligence or something like that--for not previously understanding meaning and purpose.  I realize that many people have got this figured out, at least intuitively, by age 8!   I just wasn't built that way.

From the Harvard Business Review:
You Don't Find Your Purpose--You Build It, by John Coleman, Oct. 20, 2017

As an aside, I do realize that many people in the contemporary culture passively accept the notion that life has no meaning.   However, I believe that the human need for a sense of meaning and purpose in life is innate.  I wonder if at least some of the culture's talk of purpose/meaning (this HBR, for example) is actually a backlash against, at worst, the nihilistic tendencies in the culture or, at least, of extreme materialistic utilitarian tendencies.   It is significant that HBR and Psychology Today are talking about this.  I think that people in jobs like teachers, nurses, social workers, and police find meaningfulness in their work without even trying and even taking it for granted.  But while the world of business, especially at the elite level, which HBR represents, seems to be increasingly in-human and utilitarian, I contend that so many of the people working in those kinds of environments are eventually confronted by their innate need for meaning and purpose.

As well, Psychology Today has this, on meaning in the world of work:
Can You Help Others Find Meaning in Their Work, by Michelle McQuaid, Jan. 8, 2016

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Disarming Beauty, by Julian Carron; Chapter 6: The Religious Sense, Verification of the Faith

So begins the chapter:
Is the event of Christ capable of reawakening the self from its numbness, from its invincible boredom?
Carron quotes Pope Benedict XVI:
The crisis in Christian preaching, which we have experienced in growing proportions for a century, is based, in no small part, on the fact that the Christian answers have ignored man's questions: they [the answers] were and remain right, but because they were not developed from and within the question, they remain ineffective.
This is the problem of contemporary Catholicism in a nutshell.   I grew up in the 1960's when this issue ignited and spread through society.

One of the buzz-words of the 1960's was the word relevant.  Leaders of the younger generation
regularly questioned whether the various traditional values, customs, and institutions of society were relevant.  The media regularly asked whether the churches and traditional religion were still relevant.  After all, science, technology, and big brother would take care of all our needs, and ultimately save us, I presume.

Thought leaders of the younger generation frequently accused the older generation of hypocrisy, Many used this as an excuse to reject the ways of their parents.   Most definitely, my parents were not hypocrites.  They were deeply devout and obedient Catholics who made every effort to practice what the church taught.

This was the time of the generation gap.  In the 1960's and 1970's people of my generation started saying that they didn't get anything out of going to Mass.  I'd be shocked if anyone from my parent's generation ever explicitly thought or said such a thing to others, much less their elders.  I recall hearing my oldest sister saying to our mother that she didn't get anything out of going to Mass.  I was shocked that she had the nerve to say that to her.  I'm not sure that I would have the nerve to, but neither could I truthfully say that I didn't get anything out of Mass.  Somehow, I knew that something was going on at Mass, something bigger and deeper than I could comprehend, but something mysterious that drew me in rather than left me in the cold.

Unlike many of my peers growing up, I heard sufficient Christian witness relevant to finding meaning, purpose, and direction in life, and that is why I have adhered to the faith.  But I'm not sure that I can give a witness from within the questions that contemporary men and women ask today. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Good Shepherd

Do not be misled by our modern day image of a shepherd as some sort of passive, congenial person. Shepherds led the sheep to areas where they could graze. They slept in the open fields with their flocks, in all weather, when they were far from home.  Shepherds guarded against and fought off thieves, wolves and other dangerous predators--a shepherd's staff was not for show.  A shepherd also nurtured the sick and new-born sheep, and when headed for home, carried those that were too young and weak to make the trip.  The good shepherd was a fiercely rugged and responsible man, conditioned to hardship.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quote of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Sweeping Critique of Liberal Modernity

The famous closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s sweeping critique of liberal modernity, After Virtue, in which MacIntyre concludes:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless quite different—St. Benedict.