Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why We Have Secular Humanism

Among the ruins of the old, theocratic, feudal order lives a most peculiar creature, modern man.  Here stands this bizarre specimen amid a gaggle of other men of similar peculiarity, and all of them live, work, and play, all in the continual presence of what Nietzsche once referred to as the "tombs of a dead God."  And modern man, with his sincere sense of liberation looks at these tombs with an interesting view.  He looks with justified disdain upon those who enter these old, lofty, halls of mourning, week after week, year after year, their bells calling out in commemoration of a Jewish peasant who was executed thousands of years ago.  With his enlightened sensibilities he can't help but regard these poor fools who spend their lives in fear of the judgment of some grandiose galactic dictator who dominates their lives, and yet allows them to fall into his disfavor.  Yet, he looks at these old halls which have no meaning to him anymore, these great cathedrals signifying nothing, and he is struck by their beauty.  He loves them.  They are magnificent.  He travels half-way around the world just to see them, spends millions to restore them, hangs portraits of them above his fireplace. How great is man in his wondrous achievements.

It is no wonder, in the case of the cathedral, why the cosmopolitan, the modern man, is so adoring of a remnant of the old order.  He has never expressed a distaste in the beautiful, and in fact would be seen as rather ridiculous for not recognizing the sheer greatness and profundity of these ancient relics of that old, vile, theocracy.  However, what makes him peculiar is his way of life.  Most modern men, from the rabid atheist, to the more considerate agnostic, and everyone in between, would refer to themselves as "secular humanists."

Secular humanists live by a notion of loving your fellow man for the sake of his being also a man.  There is no moral order, other than caring for each other, and loving one another.  No rigid rules apply here, as they did in the old world of the theist, rather, a loose series of understandings and personal beliefs hold the fabric of social reality together.  Through this, reason, rationality, opinion, and freedom dominate the daily comings and goings of the modern man.  But there is one thing that haunts this high-minded, rational, system of inter-subjective relations; the presence of moral absolutes.  These moral absolutes range from the simple, don't kill people, that's not nice, to don't hate people, that's also not nice, and anyone who disagrees, isn't nice, and is therefore wrong and, in a certain sense, evil.

What's wrong with that though?  You can have moral absolutes which have a firm, necessary, demand on man's actions and decisions without there being some cosmic giver of meaning and necessity, right?

Perhaps you can, but the question becomes, why do you?  It could be that these moral absolutes exist because we don't want others to be mean, or harm us.  They don't really have a meaning behind them, no necessity, but we keep them around to make sure that other people don't hurt us.  They're a shield against a necessary consequence of meaninglessness.  So, what's wrong with that?

A lot.
Our lovely friend Fredrich Nietzsche reminds us that if we have a system of morality which exists purely to keep others from hurting us, then we are only using it to seek power, and if we are only using it to seek power, then we should abolish it and just seek that power.  In plain terms, we need to get our Ubermensch on.  We need to move past these silly moral absolutes and live violently, not to say we have to go out and kill our neighbor, but that we need to quit pretending that we love him.  We need to get over our fear of others not being nice to us, and instead realize that we ourselves aren't nice by nature, and shouldn't try to force it.  Instead we should seek out that one greatness, that singular goal which all of creation strives for, and man perhaps the most cleverly, Power.

This is upsetting to the Secular Humanist, who wants to retain this love between men, these great cathedrals, all without the need for a God to fill them.  So, can't you have a system of moral absolutes without religion?

This, to use Sartre's own language, bourgeois claim that we can have a moral absolute without expressing the existence of something by way of a deity, is erroneous, and for all intents and purposes, simply a clinging to the comfort of that old order that the enlightened, rational, modern secularist has so vehemently rejected.  These absolutes are a sad remnant of the old morality of the Church, and yet these absolutes are what define Secular Humanism.

So, why do we have these absolutes?  Why do we have Secular Humanism?  Because cathedrals are beautiful.  Despite how inconvenient the implications it has on sexual morality, and scientific "progress," the old order, the Christian order, is beautiful.  And just as it would be ridiculous for modern man to think that the old cathedrals are ugly, so it would be ridiculous for him to not like the ideals of inter-subjective relation set down by Christianity.  This being said, Secular Humanism becomes not a violent revolt against the Church, but rather a tourist wondering into St. Peter's to take pictures of the statuary during Mass.  It becomes a parasite, a vulture living off the corpse of Christianity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Being and Nothingness: and Their Relation to Christianity

There are many differences between the Hebrew God and the gods of other ancient Near Eastern civilizations.  However, perhaps the most important distinction between the God of Abraham and the gods of the Hittites, Egyptians, Sumerians etc., is the fact that the God of the Israelites is said to have created ex Nihilo, that is out of, or from, Nothing.  Unlike the typical mythology of a multiplicity of gods fighting and the death of one of the gods meaning the birth of creation, the Jews provide us with a tale of a single god, speaking all of being into existence.

Existence is a state of being, or rather the state of Being which precedes all other states of being.  Existence, in the purely objective sense, that is, not considering consciousness, could easily be equated, in Christian terms, with Creation, because everything that is exists, and if there is a creator, a position which Christians must necessarily hold, what is has been created, thus Creation.  However, there is no necessity that we should exist, and there is no necessity that God should create (as was stated by the First Vatican Council).  This creates a problem. We exist, but we don't have to, and perhaps shouldn't exist.  This was the problem that plagued 20th century German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.  So, if we don't have to, and maybe shouldn't, exist, then why do we?  In other words, if God doesn't have to create, then why did he?  Out of Love.  God creates, purely out of Love, the desire of another for the sake of the other alone, and as such all things are held in existence by Love.  Being is, and is continued solely by God's Love.   

So, since God creates ex Nihilo and does so purely for the sake of Love, then we have two opposing forces, Nihilo and Love, or Good and Evil, or if you will, Being and Nothingness.  This, however, does not present a sort of dualism, for Nothingness does not truly exist, for anything that exists is not Nothingness, it is intrinsic to the nature of Nothingness.  Since Nothingness doesn't, technically, exist, as it is the absence of Being, we only know Nothingness through the absence of things we know ought to be.  This is privation.  Sin is privation.  So, in a sense, Sin is Nothingness.  But Nothingness is not an action, for action requires Being, and so Sin is not, in a sense, an action, but an acquiescence, the ultimate acquiescence.  It is an acquiescence against the God who loves us and thus creates us and holds us in Being, it is thus an acquiescence back into the Nothingness.

The opposite of this acquiescence, within the human experience, is suffering.  To love is to act against the acquiescence ad Nihilo, concupiscence, or the tendency to desire a return to the Nothingness and non-Being that "exists" without the Love of God.  This act against the acquiescence and towards the Love of God which is the foundation of Being causes suffering, in its moral sense, or anguish.

Thus, to suffer in Love is to participate in the Creation of God, the Love of God; it is to exist!  The "eternal wound of existence," as Nietzsche puts it, is just that; existing.
Existing is a wound, a suffering, because it means acting against, fighting against, making war, not against all, but against the abyss of Nothingness which is Sin.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Can Christianity Answer the Modern Question?

Christianity is often criticized for not understanding the struggle of the modern man.  Many of the thinkers of the early Atheistic community bring up valid points on this subject, and even more modern Christians have failed to address, or even acknowledge, these concerns.  If these thinkers are to be taken seriously in their concerns and questions, even if we reject their conclusions and outlines for living, then we must, without so much as a second thought attest to the fact that the struggle of mankind is, at its core, and Existential one.

As the German philosopher Schopenhauer described it, the nature of existence is desire, that is, a want for fulfillment.  These can be seen most simply in the basic necessities of life, i.e. food, water, sleep, etc.  However, the deepest and most inexorable desire of the human existence is, if we are to be at all honest with ourselves, is the desire for justification, for a reason behind the Promethean struggle that is human life.  We, all of us, were we to be truly and authentically honest about it, would have to agree that we all stand, metaphorically, upon the mountain top and cry unto the heavens, "WHY AM I HERE?  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!"  This question, this unanswerable cry unto Creation is the most sincere expression of the human condition as it stands.  We are like unto Dante, wandering alone and afraid in the woods.  Drifting, searching, and screaming as a child who has lost his way and is separated from his parents.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the 19th Century Russian author, makes the claim that we do not cry out unless we have hope for the existence of rescue in his novel, "The Idiot."  In this work he tells the story of a man condemned to death and even up to the very last moments of his life he doesn't make any attempt to call for help, he doesn't scream, he doesn't struggle; he neglects all of these things, which are without a doubt justified in the last moments of anyone's life, because he knows that he would not be heeded were he to have made any cry.  No one would help him.  He is condemned and all other men are certain that he needs to die, or at least all those who have the ability to help him.  This is contrasted, in the story, with the man who is attacked by bandits in the woods.  A man attacked by robbers cries out with all of his might, all sound and fury within his capability is expounded in his absolute desperation, because he has hope that someone might hear him.  He believes help will come.  Clearly we call out, as we have just stated the exact fact that we cry out.  And thus we must certainly hold, somewhere deep within ourselves we believe that there is someone who will come to rescue us.

And so we know that we believe that there is someone who will come to help us.  And surely it is a person, we do not cry out for a map to tell us where to go.  And a map would not suffice for we are like children, and a child finding this map would still be helpless, and even if not left helpless he would surely not be comforted in the same way as if he had a real, human guide to show him the way. So, we know, in our truest, deepest self, that there ought to be a person, a fellow man, who will lead us out of the dark wood of being, the ever present "wound of existence" as Nietzsche puts it.

For the answer to our question of being we must again turn to our Russian friend as he explains that "the whole law of human existence consists of making it possible for man to bow down before what is infinitely great. If man were to be deprived of the infinitely great, he would refuse to go on living, and die of despair."

Thus we, as humans, seek after infinity and a man.  And as Christians we, were we truly to consider ourselves as such, know someone who is both.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm Confused...

My face
As a Catholic Christian I am, as most of us are, faced with the bizarre phenomenon of those who are so adamantly supportive of contraception.  I say "bizarre phenomenon" because the entire, supposed, purpose of these individuals is to promote health and well-being, yet I'm not sure they understand what they're saying in their promotion of contraceptives or how it effects the rest of their thought.  Take for instance a very common phrase; namely that not using contraception makes you a
"SLAVE TO BIOLOGY." (insert deep voice and dramatic music here)

Alright, so the fact that someone doesn't use contraception means that their sex will have the potentiality of reaching its natural end i.e. procreation.

This is true

And being that this is used as an argument for contraception and against NFP, that should mean that being a
is a bad thing.  Right?

Okay, so we have the position of those who support contraception.  Being a
is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs.

but wait...

This makes me wonder about the largest claim about the necessity of contraception, that abstinence doesn't work.  The claim that abstinence doesn't work is made under the claim that sex is a biological need, that must be fulfilled, like eating or drinking.  Which means that in having the absolute necessity to fulfill this need you are a

It is clear though, that these are very, very different types of slavery.  DISTIGUIAMUS!!!

The first slavery is one of science.  All science can be boiled down to one very simple principle, cause and effect.  Procreation being the outcome of sex is simply cause and effect; if animals mate, they make children.  And I like this scientific slavery, as I for one sleep better knowing that at no point in the night will I fall up, away from the Earth, and into the spinning blades of my ceiling fan (however there is still the ever present risk of falling down, towards the Earth, and onto my floor).

Our second form of slavery is one of will.  This is the slavery of determinism (or at least behaviorism).  Slavery no. 2, unlike its scientific predecessor, does not give me comfort, in fact its terrifying as all hell!  If we are slaves within our will, then nothing we do matters at all, just part of a great cosmic clockwork.  And as one who does not accept determinism, I say nay!  While abstaining from sex may be difficult it is not impossible and it is not unhealthy.

We are indeed
in as much as we are slaves to physics.  We, however, posses rationality and will.

So, if the argument of those who support contraceptives is that we should not allow a most beautiful act to find its completion, yet we should be wholly bound to abandon our will to our passions, and yet they sill hold that there is something wrong with being a
then I have only one thing to say; "I'm confused..."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Angels, Jews and the Fear of the Lord.

Any one who has been properly Catechized (and even those who haven't) should be able to tell you that Christ is truly present in the Mass.  Now, to some of us that means that a friendly, cheerful, "buddy-Jesus" comes down during the consecration and dwells mystically among us.  While this is true, it's also lacking the fullness of what is truly going on.  For others, more informed others, it means Christ suffering on the Cross for us.  This is true, as the other was true, but still misses some of the point.  For not only does Christ come to us during the Mass, but so does ALL OF HEAVEN!

And of course all of Heaven would come to us in the Mass, if God comes to us in the Mass, how could it even be possible that Heaven wouldn't?

We can be lead, by our surroundings, to think that the idea that all the Saints and Angels being around us is a nice, warm, comforting image.  But this doesn't really take a whole lot into account.

First, let us recall our ancient Jewish roots.
It's time to get our Jew on.
The ancient Jews loved their God and their Temple, but all this aside, they were TERRIFIED of it.  That's right, they were afraid of the Temple, and rightfully so, being that the Temple, like the Mass, held the Presence of God.  They were particularly afraid of the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctuary of the Temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant.  The Holy of Holies terrified them so much, that only one man had to go in, the high priest, and even he only did it once a year, to make the Atonement Sacrifice, and on top of that, they tied a rope around his waste to drag him out in case he died.

"But that's okay, we're not Jews, we don't have to worry about that, right?"
To be short;

We, as Christians, worship the same God that the ancient Jews worshiped and feared so sincerely.  Christians should fear this same God with this same sincerity, if no more being that we have seen the complete fullness of not only his immense power, but also His love for mankind.

So, why do we lack this fear of God?  We receive Communion, for those of you who don't know that means bodily receiving the GOD of Jacob, who (you know) created the ENTIRE UNIVERSE, with a lackadaisical attitude.  We go before what the ancient Jews were so afraid of that they made preparations for death before doing it, without a thought, or a care.  Because we've made God "nice".

To see how far this false "nicety" can take us, lets go back to the presence of the angels at Mass.  Many of us would believe that this means that there's an army of naked babies with wings floating through the church. This is not what Scripture tells us of the angels though.  In fact some of the angelic creatures described in the Scriptures would make Wes Craven crap his pants.

Take this for example:
I can't even...

(Seriously, the next time your kids act out in Mass, just tell them this thing is there...)

And just like we've in our understanding changed what the angels are, so too have we changed what God is. We have made a "Stepford Jesus" who never makes us change anything about ourselves.  Well unfortunately that isn't how God works.  God is the Almighty Creator, and like the Jews we should always be in awe and fear of Him.  Now many argue against this saying "oh, but God loves us."  As if love makes Him any less powerful.  If anything His great love for us should make us fear Him more, being that he is so intimately involved in our lives.

And as such, I say to you as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says to all of us; whenever we go before God we should always "approach with Faith, with Fear, and with Love."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Salvation and Swimming the English Channel

Anyone who has ever had any exposure to Protestantism is probably fairly well acquainted with this question: "Are you saved?"  At first glance this seems to be a pretty understandable question, being that all Christians believe that salvation is the ultimate goal of all mankind.  If, as Christians, we believe that salvation is our ultimate end, then why shouldn't we ask others, with the utmost of sincerity, "are you saved?"  Well, as valid as the question may seem, it shows a profound flaw in understanding of Salvation.  The concept behind the question treats salvation as if it is a singular act within the person's life.  While it is true that one can never come to salvation without a singular act, namely an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, that is not in and of itself salvation.

To be put metaphorically, it could be said that life is like crossing the English Channel.  You have a goal, get to the other side (Heaven), however, you could instead not make it to the other side and instead drown and sink to the bottom (Hell).  The Protestant question of "are you saved," making salvation a singular act in ones life, would, in terms of crossing a great body of water, be as if salvation were a lifeboat.  In this understanding, you get on, thereby making a singular choice in your life.  With this belief, anyone who ever has an encounter with Jesus Christ is on a sure path to salvation. However, this simply isn't the case.

A singular encounter, while perhaps life changing for an instant, can easily be forgotten, especially in our current age.  You may have gotten in the lifeboat, but you can surely forget which way you were supposed to be going.  The encounter with the person of Jesus may be, and indeed I would say is, the most important single moment in your life, however if it only happens once, you have failed.
Would have meant nothing if they didn't act on it.

If salvation is not a single act, then what exactly is it?  Well, it's a process.  In the Eastern Christian tradition, this process is referred to as Theosis.  That is, becoming godly.  This process is not something which is done once, there is no single altar call, there is no three month period of Christian living, after which your salvation is assured.  No.  Theosis is a lifelong journey.  It is not a single encounter with Christ, but a lifetime of encounters so intimate that you become like him.  It isn't just going to him once, and going about your life, it is radically changing your life to be like him.  This is a terrifying thing to many of us, as indeed I believe it should be, as God has called us to be like him, not in a distant and uncaring way, but in a near and human way.  However this is not the fear that we have.  Instead of fearing the fact that this call comes from God, we fear that it is a call to absolute change.  We are a people who like quick fixes, my head hurts, take some aspirin, etc etc.  But this is not a quick fix.  This is instead a complete reversal of livelihood.  Almost everything about us is called to be changed, not just for a a brief moment when we go into the water, or up to the altar, but forever!

So, to return to our metaphor; there is no magic lifeboat that will take us to our destination, if only we get in that one time.  Instead, we must swim it, the whole way.  We have free will and therefore must make decisions, we must decide each stroke.  We are not alone in this vast sea though, we have a guide, and He is never too far from us.  His voice is not a booming one from the heavens, but a soft one that cares about us.  This guide has put His life down for us, that we may make it to our destination, but he does not insist on His way, He will let us go where we please.  He does not abandon us in our misdirection, and He will always be with us to guide us when we turn to Him.  But if we truly decide to ignore him forever, we will surely sink, even if we did once follow his voice.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why Atheism is a Dead End

A great debate has raged since the Deists of the Enlightenment first lost their ground to the greater and more intellectual class, the Atheist.  The great Atheist has all but replaced the Deist, and has freed himself of the the dark age superstition and frivolous celebration of the Theist, particularly the worst of all Theists, the Christian.  This debate has always been focused on the existence, or lack there of, of God.  Though there are those who are apathetic to this debate, anyone involved in it will tell you that the question of God's existence is perhaps the single most important question in all of human history.  I find however, that Atheists, in their proposal on the topic, align themselves quite oddly.  Almost all of the atheists in our present age belong to a certain, and very peculiar, school of philosophy.  More often than not they do not know that they belong to this group, but they are all the same a part of it.So, the atheists of the internet are now rather suspicious, and rightfully so.

You, my very esteemed colleagues are what is referred to in philosophy as "Naturalists."  So, what does the naturalist, and thus the atheist, believe?  Well, first and foremost, that there is no God, and that matter and energy are eternal, and the only true reality.  They also believe in a closed (that is free from any "other-worldly" interference) system of cause and effect which is the principle of all interaction in the universe.  Naturalists believe that life came to be through a multitude of astronomically improbable coincidences.  They do not believe in objective moral duties as, in a system of pure cause and effect, morality exists only for survival and comfort.  Conscious life is simply a part of the evolutionary system, and mankind, like all organisms, is driven by the programming of their genes and surroundings, to quote Richard Dawkins we "dance to our DNA."

And so, we have it; the Atheist (at least the rational, typical, intellectual atheist) is a Naturalist.  With this, they can all just live in a nice, quaint, little society.  They can have their naturalism, their empiricism, their love for science, and best of all, their lack of objective moral norms.  Thus, the Atheist can live happily ever after.  Right?

"lololol, nope."
Enter Fredrich Nietzsche, renowned 19th century philosopher and outspoken atheist, and enter the peculiarity of the Naturalist.

Although Nietzsche agrees with the Naturalist in all accounts, he looks at the Naturalist with a mix of utter contempt and amusement.  Starting with the assumptions of the Naturalist, Nietzsche begs the question; if God is dead, what do we do?  This is a very rational question, as God has for some two thousand years been the center of Western Civilization, and with a real acceptance of his non-existence, we cannot simply go about our lives as we had beforehand. He also establishes a few other logical conclusions from Naturalism.

First, if we are to truly believe that the universe is a closed system of cause and effect, as Naturalism says it is, then we must realize that this means there is no such thing as choice.  All decisions that any of us make, are simply imagined choice, and are really just unrecognized determinism.  I'm sure there's now an angry mob forming, but here me out.

If the universe is actually nothing more than a closed system of cause and effect, then we have accept that all events are just part of this grand machinery of cause and effect.  And even if there is any chance in the universe, which there isn't, it's still, by virtue of there being no God, completely uncaring and unfeeling.  The universe doesn't care, all of mankind's actions are meaningless and existence is just happening like clockwork.

Our second problem is a moral one.  If there is no such thing as objective moral standards, then all value is either a fact of nature or a result of culture (we're going to ignore the fact that claiming it to be a result of culture just pushes the fact of objective moral standards back a few generations for right now).  If this is true, then we have no means by which to define the morality of an action, because to do one action, instead of another, is to set a higher objective value on that action than the other, which is counter-productive to the idea of moral relativity.

And finally, the great dagger to the heart of all empiricism.  If there is no God, and man is nothing more than an inextricably complex biological machine, then so is his mind.  If the mind is just a machine, then thought, which it produces, is merely an extension of cause and effect.  Thoughts are nothing more than electric impulses and chemicals firing in the brain.  We are left, in the absence of God, without any objective reference point for truth.  If this is true, then we can have no trust for our perceptions of physical reality.  There is no justifiable difference between reality and illusion.
Thus the atheist is left with quite a predicament; world and those around him, and there is nothing he can do to change.   The Atheist, in his Naturalism, now must face the looming reality that he is in fact a Nihilist.  He is completely alienated from the all of reality, if he is even perceiving a true reality.  Alienated from everything and everyone; he may be free from the shackles of Theism, but he is left alone in the Universe, and lost in the Cosmos.