Tag Archives: Action

I Don’t Believe in God Either

Peter Kreeft has a wonderful anecdote about his religious philosophy class.  He asks all the people who do not believe in God to put up their hand and asks them to sit on one side of the room.  On the other side of the class, then, is the theists or deists.  Then he asks the theists to argue against the existence of God and the atheists to argue for the existence of God.  Without fail, Kreeft says, the theists offer the best arguments one can come up with against the existence of God.  Also without fail is the atheists who tend to offer the weakest possible arguments for the existence of God.  In short, Kreeft says, the theist has thought out his position, while the atheist has tended to not really give it the thought it deserves.

I bring this up because I have discovered that this tends to hold true in much of my discourse with atheists.  Reading Karl Rahner for one of my courses – as painful as it was – reinforced in me an idea that has been germinating in my mind for quite some time.  I have come to realize that the god of the atheist is a god I don’t believe in either.  I too want to do everything I can to destroy the idol of that god in the world.  However, unfortunately, the atheist tends to equate that god with the God of the theist or the Christian, and it is in no way the same as the Christian God.

For Christians, God is completely Other.  He is completely transcendent to all creation.  We cannot grasp Him, we cannot put Him into a box, we cannot define Him completely.  For everything we do say positively about Him, we must hold that these words are insignificant in comparison to the reality that is God.  If God is love, He is ever more than our understanding of love, for example.  Yet when you talk to an atheist, they look at ‘god’ as some figure who can be examined, dissected, and parsed.  In short, their ‘god’ is one who is completely comprehensible to the human mind.  And they impose this idol as the god of all theists.  But this is not our God.  God is completely other.

Where is the proof of this?  The most common version is their equation of the Christian God with Thor, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.  In short: the gods or God: they are all part of our order of things.  They do not see God as completely other.  If God is not completely other, then I don’t believe in Him either.  A great proof of this is found in Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”.  He says “the problem about a designer is this: who designed the designer”.  What we see in this is a subtle problem: Dawkins is equating the Christian God as simply the first thing in reality.  The whole of the cosmos and God are in the same reality: God is just the greatest thing of our reality.  But that is not the Christian claim.  Dawkins (and most atheists) set up a straw man.  They rightly destroy that idol.  But they have not ridden us of the Christian God because they have never taken Him seriously.

Yet when we look at Scripture, we see a very different understanding of God.  When Moses encounters God in the burning bush he asks Him a name and God refuses to give Moses a name; He simply says “I AM WHO AM”.  God refuses to give a name because to give a name means you can be manipulated.  Job’s search for meaning in his suffering is also a demonstration of God’s complete Otherness: “My ways are not your ways”.  God is infinitely more than anything in the created realm.  God transcends all that is: He is completely, totally, and irrevocably OTHER.  Thus, when people like Dawkins make the claim “who designed the designer”, it is a demonstration that they are unable to grasp the totality of the mystery, transcendence, and otherness of God.

This brings me to a second point on the topic.  We live in a culture which states that you have to try everything in order to make an informed choice.  My first reaction to this is simply “well, do I have to try murder to see if it’s wrong?”.  It is a rather extreme statement to make, but it is hyperbolic in order to demonstrate the absurdity of what Blondel calls “dilenttantism”: the need to try everything because that is what life is all about.  I bring this up because it leads me to the important of Blaise Pascal’s arguments for the existence of God.  Though I don’t have the space to go into detail about what he says, I simply want to emphasize his idea that it is the most reasonable thing to believe in God because it is the statistically best idea to embrace in virtue of his four possibilities.  What we tend to do is think that belief is purely in the mind.  It is an assent, and that is it.  But Pascal means something by belief.  He means that we ought to live as if God exists.

What does this mean?  It means that our life is formed by God: action is what is primary.  If we live as if God exists, then our minds will be formed to embrace the total Otherness of the reality of God.  What does this mean?  It means that it tends to be the case that those who are atheists have never actually given theism a shot because they have never lived according to what that entails.  Some may have been raised in religious households, but I have found that what they have been raised in tends towards superstition.  Some legitimately reject God as He is.  But my question to atheists is “Have you actually lived as if God exists?”  If not, then their statements are futile and what they say is not based on reality as such.  I would be much more willing to listen to an atheist who actually takes reality seriously.  Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one.

in Christ

-Harrison

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On Rhetoric in the Debate on Marriage

Lately, on Facebook, the following video has been floating around:

Yes, the rhetoric of this young man is amazing.  He is well spoken, and has a good head on his shoulders it seems.

Yes, he has grown up normally.

I do not doubt his experience, or his normalcy at all.  I give credence to every single word he said.

In fact, I must admit, watching this video initially, I was challenged by it: the young man is incredibly persuasive.  What can one say in response to that?

To an extent, not much can be said.  I think one of the issues of the marriage debate is that the two sides speak two totally different languages and have two totally different worldviews.  We are talking at each-other, and not with each other.

I know some friends may be reading this and, seeing the clip online themselves, would be hard pressed to offer a reasonable response to such a clip: I too find it difficult, which is why I have had to take some time to reflect, to give serious weight to his words and arguments, and to see if I hold onto every word he says.

I will start with an agreement.  I don’t think the marriage debate should be on the impact of gay parents on their children.  While I am not for such an upbringing – for reasons which I will not bring up here – I do not think it ought to be the basis of the argument.  Ultimately, it doesn’t hold water: it is too subjective.  People like Zach (and I know others, too) have grown up to be well balanced and productive individuals in society.  They are proof against the argument (though proof can be offered on the opposite side as well).  In fact, good or bad upbringing can happen even in families with heterosexual parents.  This is not where the argument can lie.  Thus, Zach is right at first: if the argument is about upbringing, then the law must be in favour of same-sex couples.  But that is – or at least ought not – to be where the argument lies.

As beautiful as passionate rhetoric can be – his speech is a fine example of the finest rhetoric – rhetoric itself cannot be the basis of a judgment.  I recall during the Presidential Election hearing one of Obama’s speeches.  I was swept up in it.  His rhetoric was persuasive – not on the intellectual level, but on the emotional – your emotions could almost lead you to say “Yes we can” with him.  But reality is not based on emotions.  I remembered afterwards thinking about his actual arguments – what he was really saying – and realized I myself almost got swept up in the emotional stir that I experienced.  I didn’t agree with his arguments at the time – though I no longer recall what they were – and realized, unfortunately, most speech is emotion only.  Reason has fallen out the window.  People, because of the fact that emotions and feelings have become the basis of their life, fall into the emotional stir often and, thinking they are applying their reason, really throw it out the window.  I recall, again with Obama as the example, that Howard Stern did a brief little walking survey of Americans asking who they would vote for, isolating those who were voting for Obama.  Then he said “Well, I guess that means you’re pro-life” or “pro-war” or what not – positions Obama explicitly did not hold.  And these people answered that yes, they too were for that.  What Stern was demonstrating was the fact that people were not informed in their voting, but to me it demonstrated a deeper reality: people were swept up in Obama-feeling and not in Obama-fact.  Feelings and reason are not opposed, though reason is higher in the human person.  But people tend to pit one against the other.  In our North American society as of late, we have leaned towards the feelings and have imposed the concept of reason to them.  The arbiters of our moral compass are no longer our minds informing our lived life: it is our feelings that are equated with the mind.  In the search for reason, we have become unreasonable.

This brings me back to my argument about Zach’s speech.  What happened with Obama is what is happening with Zach’s speech, and is probably why it is taking the internet by storm.  But there is a statement in his speech that made me ask myself “is that really true?”  He said that love is the basis of family.  I agree with this, but my question is, what does he understand love to be?  Is it a feeling?  Well, we have “loving feelings” all the time, they come and go, and they are not the basis for love as love.  So he probably didn’t mean that – even though people tend to equate love with that.  He did equate the concept of commitment with love.  He is right about that.  Commitment and love go hand in hand.

Zach and I would probably even agree that life-long committed love is expressed through the sexual act.  But it is exactly at this point, too, that we would diverge.  Because what is at issue in the whole debate – an issue that the courts do not seem to take into account – is the concept of the human person.  What I see in the statements of those who are pro-homosexual marriage is that there is a different concept of the human person in both sides of the argument.  For those who are pro-homosexual marriage, they do not see the person as a body and soul unity.  Love can be expressed in a sexual way regardless of whether or not the parts fit.  For those who are pro-traditional sense of marriage, the opposite is true: deep down, their concept of the human person is one that sees the body as expressing the soul: they are in a great communion.  Their acts are expressive of their nature, and so to have a ‘male body’ means to be a ‘male soul’ as well.

While what I have just said is incredibly basic, lacking nuance, and needing of a far more extensive treatment, I think this is more where the issue really lies.  The concept of the human person is under attack, and has been since the enlightenment.  By trying to value the body, many post-modern thinkers have actually devalued it.  Yet – and this is where one, with time and space, could demonstrate the inherent inconsistency of the post-modern view of the human person – if we took a deep and profound look at our experience of life, we would realize that tendencies, even strong one’s, do not define us, that the body needs a soul and the soul a body. We would realize that to be truly human is to value the beauty of the body and the soul in its complete integrity.  As I read Maurice Blondel’s “L’Action”, I think his philosophy offers us a key to engaging this issue.  That is where the argument ought to be – in the realm of the human person – and that is precisely where it is not.

As an end note, I must insist completely: I am not anti-gay people in any way, shape or form, though I know those who read this who are pro-gay marriage, despite my saying that, will still think I either hate or strongly discriminate against gays.  I do not.  I am not attacking them.  The reason why people will say I am anti-gay people, though, is because they believe, in the end, that action defines who we are.  I think that action expresses our choices as to who we want to be: one in accord with our nature, or one who acts against it.  That is where the argument is, and, despite the qualification I have now just posted, I will still be called a bigot, a gay-hater, etc.  I have tried to make it known I am not, but accept the fact that I may still be called that.

in Christ

-Harrison

 

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How to Pray in a Distracted World – The Philosophy of Maurice Blondel as an Aid in the Spiritual Life

Maurice Blondel

In yesterday’s post, I spoke about the importance of prayer in order to become a saint, and I spoke especially about listening in prayer.  I would like to develop that thought a bit more with the help of a recently acquired new friend: Maurice Blondel.

Let me, first, tell you a little bit about Blondel.  He was born in France in the area of Dijon in 1861.  He is a philosopher who’s most popular work “L’Action” was defended at the Sorbonne in 1893.  Blondel was a devout Catholic and felt that philosophy gave way too much to positive science: philosophy was only being based on the quantifiable.  Blondel was not pleased with this and developed a philosophy of action.  It is in this philosophy of action that he demonstrates that philosophy cannot avoid the religious problem, though it also cannot answer it.  He was a major influence on many of the theologians who would give shape to the Second Vatican Council.  As Bishop Peter Henrici states: “Blondel is the philosopher of Vatican II”.

So, why am I speaking about a philosopher with regards to prayer and the spiritual life?  It is because in his philosophy of action – which, admittedly, I have yet to finish – I have had  a spiritual encounter, all due to the fact that Blondel is an astute observer of human nature.  So, before I go into why he is important for prayer, I want to speak, in as simple a way as I can, about his philosophy of action.

Blondel argues that if we look into the life of our mind, we see a limitless number of choices.  Our reason goes through these tendencies and desires and we make a judgment: “This is the good thing to do.”  Yet, it is not enough to will to do a good thing.  Let us use a consistent example.  We are in the Church about to start praying a rosary.  Yet, just as we are about to begin, we find ourselves seemingly overwhelmed and outnumbered by many other desires and tendencies.  Perhaps we feel like going out for a coffee instead, making a phone call, checking our e-mail, talking to a friend, etc.  The other possible choices seem endless and the choice to just say the rosary seems overwhelmed by these other desires.  Blondel goes into some fine tuning with regards to this, but that is generally the point.  So we are faced with a choice: do we will to do the rosary or allow the variety of other tendencies and desires to overwhelm us?  Where does our true desire lie?  Before I go on, Blondel makes an interesting point: if we choose not to act, then we submit our self and our will to our tendencies, giving them more power over us.  We have a choice: to act or not to act (though to not act is itself an act, though not in the positive sense)

Let us presume we are holy people – or at least attempting to be – and thus say we see, in this moment, the greatest value to be the rosary.  But it is not enough to intend to say the rosary: one must say it.  Blondel states that the will is perfected in its choice only when it is acted upon.  Furthermore, action is a synthesis for the entire person: it “sums up” the person as both body and soul.  When an action happens – in this case saying the rosary – we become aware in a deeper way that this is our true value because it is the choice we have acted upon.  The action also sums up all our other desires and tendencies: they are given a new life in the action that has been chosen.  In short: action reveals our self to ourselves.  We see – either good or bad – what we are really like, what is really what we value, etc.  Thus, even bad actions have a positive end: if we choose them (and we do: we’re sinners!) then we are aware of what needs to be worked on in our life.  Furthermore, every time we act, we hone our will, especially when it is towards the same desire.  By constantly acting on the same desire over and over again – in this case prayer and love of God – then that virtue becomes habituated in us and the other tendencies, though present, lose their power over us.  In short: Blondel is promoting fasting, penance, asceticism: by saying yes to one thing, we are saying no to a seeming infinite.

This may seem a bit dense – I am still unpacking this myself – but the principle is really simple: action has consequences, both positive and negative for the spiritual life.  When we are praying, many thoughts enter our minds.  We often give too much credence to these distractions.  What Blondel has been helping me with in my spiritual life is to see that a) the spiritual life is a battle and b) that I have a freedom over what I act on with the grace of God as my help.

The Spiritual Life is a Battle

The fact that there is one thing I can only choose against an infinite number of other choices seems daunting, but my experience is in accord with that truth.  Thus, I allow myself to be overwhelmed with the infinite and do not see the power of the choice.  The choice for that deeper value, that truth – God’s love and grace present in my life – has a power over my other tendencies and desires.  In short, when I am praying or choosing to pray, I have a choice: I can listen to those distractions or I can shut them up.  Yet the only way I can begin to shut-up the distractions is by acting on the good grace that has been given me by God.  Action is the only means to experiencing the freedom of God’s love.  If I stand around and allow the distractions to overwhelm me, then I allow the distractions to take hold and either do nothing or allow the distractions to become habituated in my life through action.  We act no matter what: what will we do with this necessary action: that is up to us with God’s help.

So, it is a battle, a fight against concupiscable desires.  It means it will not be easy, but it means, in each moment, saying “YES” to the Lord and no to the other desires that hinder us from following Him.  As we continue the battle, we will find ourselves more attuned to the grace given then the possible sins.  Yes is the means to freedom.

Freedom to Act on God’s Grace

When we are praying, many distractions come up.  When we desire to pray many distractions come up.  Distractions are a natural part of life; they are the unfortunate adversary of our spiritual life.  When we are in prayer though, we may be praying the rosary when suddenly the idea pops in our head: “oh yeah, I need to get that organized for tomorrow.”  We cannot, per se, control that: distractions will lessen the more we choose in our actions the Lord.  However, when the distraction arises, we act on it: “I have a choice in front of me: I can either give into the distraction and listen to it while I say my rosary or I can concentrate on the mystery I am praying.”  It really is that simple!  Do you choose Jesus or the distraction?  This is difficult at first – unfortunately most of us are habituated to letting the infinite desires take a reign in our life – and thus it causes suffering, pain, and effort.  But the freedom that comes from it is worth it and we experience the joy of that when we make that firm choice in our action for the Lord: “I will focus on that mystery”.

These, in the end, are just preliminary thoughts I have had about Blondel and the prayer life.  I have found it helpful, and I know I have to “unpack” a lot more of his thought (I am only half-way through L’Action) in order to see how much benefit it has.  I have a feeling it will only get better.

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