‘What Shall I Say to You’ O Guardian of Humanity?

‘What Shall I Say to You?’ | Commonweal magazine: “What did that Latin quotation say to me that afternoon nearly half a century ago? It began, surely, in the notion that God was no mere Big Someone or Something outside of me, the anonymous Ground of Being. Rather, in the words of the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, God was a fathomless, transcendent ‘Thou’ with whom, even in my moment of wavering, I was still wrestling. But what of it? What, really, did I hear, in the chanted Latin running through my mind that afternoon, to reverse the bleak intuition of the utter emptiness of myself and the mysterious absence of God?”

(Via Commonweal Magazine.)

I can relate.  I’m reminded of Genesis 32:29 when Jacob wrestles with God.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

Doing the God Thing Right

Finished The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. Brilliant book. Though the title is an unfortunate victim of marketing-speak. It’s not an apologetic to convince you of anything except that being convinced means your are doing the God thing wrong. As usual the history she breaks down for the reader is immensely illuminating.

At the end of the day to quest for that Reality some of us call God is quintessentially human with all the attendant good and evil. Faith is more like marriage than some intellectual exercise (or surrender). Religion is work. Some are good at it and some aren’t.

Read it if you dare.

Magically Fundamental

Jon Meachem in the NY Times breaks it down:

Then, significantly, MacCulloch adds, “I live with the puzzle of wondering how something so apparently crazy can be so captivating to millions of other members of my species.” That puzzle confronts anyone who approaches Christianity with a measure of detachment. The faith, MacCulloch notes, is “a perpetual argument about meaning and ­reality.”

This is not a widely popular view, for it transforms the “Jesus loves me! This I know / For the Bible tells me so” ethos of Sunday schools and vacation Bible camps into something more complicated and challenging: what was magical is now mysterious. Magic means there is a spell, a formula, to work wonders. Mystery means there is no spell, no formula — only shadow and impenetrability and hope that one day, to borrow a phrase T. S. Eliot borrowed from Julian of Norwich, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

via Book Review – Christianity – The First Three Thousand Years – By Diarmaid MacCulloch – Review – NYTimes.com.

And that’s why fundamentalism, which tries to put God in a box, is problematic from the get go for me.

God, these people annoy me

Back to that clueless bumper sticker. Let me rewrite it in ways that have a greater basis in American history:

“The last time we mixed religion and politics, we got Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

via God, these people annoy me | WHYY News and Information | WHYY.

Exactly.  You can’t inveigh against bigotry and ignorance by being bigoted and ignorant.

What Do You Believe Rob?

A friend recently asked, “I sincerely would like to understand what makes a bright, educated, eloquent person believe in god and accept religion. Please tell me.”
This is my answer:

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”

–St. Thomas Aquinas

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

“I believe in Coincidence like I believe in God. I know both exist but have never seen either.”
The Unit

Simply put faith is like love or the appreciation of art or one’s morality. It is part of who you are and is not the product reason, rather the reverse. (Nor does the object of these human experiences change their essential nature. From a materialist reductive standpoint, a father’s love for his son is completely in his head, just a collection of neuro-chemical reactions and bio-elecricity regardless of the reality of his son.) Faith is a human experience that is ineffable though we, like romantic love, spend many words describing it’s reality. Religion is faith in practice and like anything else human, subject to our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. And that is the plain truth.

So for me, Truth is accepting what Is as clearly as I can see it and refraining from letting my desires, wants, and biases cloud that vision. So the truth is I believe in God because I have experienced God. I have a modest spiritual capacity. I deploy religion to practice my spirituality and employ my faith because I am driven to do so. I do not subscribe to fideism, nor does my Church by the way. I believe that experience lies at the ground of all we hold True. The rest is mental exercise and commentary.

I am a Catholic because I found a spiritual home at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. Otherwise, I would be done with organized religion as my wife and I were tired of lots of sizzle and no steak. Spirit: that’s all that’s Real to me. Otherwise you might was well worship Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or Russell’s Teapot for that matter.

Catholicism is enough for me because I know God intimately through it. I don’t worry about ancient traditions, doctrines or dogma too much. (Maybe that makes me a bad Catholic in the Magesterium’s eyes, but I’m not in this for them now am I?) A caveman and I start a campfire pretty much the same way and appreciate its reality despite vastly different understanding of its nature. So I’m less worried about the Trinitarian Godhead as monotheism, for example, and more worried about how my religion makes me a better persons and deepens my spirituality, i.e. knowledge of God.
Jesus, my Lord and Master, taught:

And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened…If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:9-10,13)


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On Worshipping at the Altar of Atheism

I have a good friend who is a staunch materialist and enjoy a little back and forth with him about God. We don’t debate since that’s of little value. But in the course of our discussions I’m struck by how religious the arguments for atheism are and how absolute their proponents’ faith is in only what can see, hear, and touch.

I say faith because that is by definition belief in something impossible to prove. You simply can’t prove a negative without, dare I say it, the infinite knowledge of God. (Props to Professor Michael Eric Dyson for challenging me on my fideistic acceptance of materialism.) But that’s not the only reason why I call it faith.

The sheer arrogance of the likes of Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins is reminiscent of the Magesterium in times past and, to my regret, not so distant past. We know The Truth while the rest of the world is either deluded, stupid, or both. It’s implicit in the ideology. Even well meaning folks can’t seem to avoid it. One of the coolest people on this planet I know asked me “Why do you believe in God, Rob, you’re so intelligent?” out of genuine curiosity. Except for his atheism, he is the opposite of Dick Dawkins. (Yes, I mean the pun). At Bible study/Church school, we are going through adult catechism over the next year. It’s amazing how the ethos is identical insofar as the tendency of all too many to look down on the beliefs of others.

I love Truth and work hard at finding it but I’m not so prideful to claim it as my own. I have to be, like a good scientist would be, willing to accept that tomorrow’s discovery will turn my world upside down else I have no faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

And on that note:

I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.

–Albert Einstein


Rational Lies

This weekend was a good one spiritually. Saturday, Bishop Steib from the Memphis visited and gave us a Word that had people rushing for his autograph. Today at Mass, Father gave a great homily on authentic Christianity. Both had me pondering on how I saw my own faith. Was it something I should defend against attack from the Jehovah’s witnesses at my door on the one hand to the subtle (and often not so subtle) condescension of my atheist friends and the likes of Bill Maher on the other? For a long time I, in fact, thought so. Well, no longer. I am willing to evangelize and to explain, but I’ll no longer defend. To do so is to accept the premise for attack. I don’t apologize for loving my wife. Why in the hell should I for loving Jesus? Rationally, neither makes any sense.
I remember a good friend asking me essentially why I was a man of faith, “You’re so bright,” he said. He went on with the usual old saws about how religion is good to get your through a tough time or if your are weak mentally or emotionally but not for the serious minded and intelligent. And I explained, patiently, where I was coming from.
Such thinking is ironic to me. It demonstrates a strong faith in one’s senses. If a man born blind denies the existence of color, what argument could convince him? His senses tell him nothing about the existence of color. In fact, every argument that I know of made to convince him could easily be employed to “prove” the existence of God!
Faith like love or art is a part of the human experience that is not subject to argument. It is ineffable and undeniable for those who experience it. To quote St. Thomas Aquinas:

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

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Faith based Politics

Today, I learned an important lesson: faith is a great ally and great threat in politics. When discussing a recent article on the Internet titled, “How to Disagree,” with some friends, I took the opportunity to correct past mistakes at being ineffective, intemperate, or just plain disagreeable when discussing contentious topics. I decided to revisit a particular discussion on homosexuality and examine the mechanics of the back and forth. I wanted to highlight my reasoning, how I was trying to make a point, and so on, to show that I was refuting (and this is important) logical claims by providing evidence that supported my refutation.
I received a couple of responses that greatly frustrated me at first. Technically speaking, my friends had simply restated a contradiction to a point I had painstakingly proven with biblical evidence, evidence that I found incontrovertible. It was right there in black and white, after all. Yet, here they were simply restating the opposite! My ego was stung and information not conforming to my worldview was imposed on me and like most human beings, anger was the predictable first and thankfully internal response. Aren’t they listening?!? Don’t they respect me?!? Are they boneheaded??! And so on. To be clear and concise consider this conversation:
What is the wavelength of blue light?
550 nanometers.
What is the wavelength of light scattered from the sky on a sunny day?
550 nanometers.
What is the color of the sky?
It hadn’t yet occurred to me that they were simply confessing faith. Confessing one’s faith comes in many different forms and is often disguised, as it was in this situation. Faith is also emotional and deeply multivalent in one’s life. It doesn’t fit in a nice neat box. It is often ineffable and a reflection of the person who has it rather than a reflection of some abstract or objective reality.

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Origins of Faith

As many who know me can attest, I’ve done a fair bit of personal research into the Bible. Obviously, I have a set of opinions, presuppositions, etc. that differ with much of the received wisdom our forefathers in faith passed down. I have had many struggles with what I’ve come to believe and not to believe. Most of it has to do with the fact that much of what I was taught as a Christian is built on a set of presuppositions or faith, depending on your point of view, that when exposed to “the facts”, came crashing down. As a youngster, I believed in the divine inspiration of an author whole wrote down a message and that this was basically in chronological order from Genesis until Revelation when God basically “stopped” inspiring people. He was finished and the Book complete.

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The “Rule of Faith”

My personal Christian faith has been evolving for years now as I try to clarify the “rule of faith” by which I live. Fellow Christians often asked me, “What is your standard?” Here I give a brief discussion to answer this important question.

**UPDATE 4/12** *Fixed some typos and language errors.*

My personal Christian faith has been an evolving one over the space of years, as I try to clarify the “rule of faith” by which I live. Fellow Christians often asked me, “What is your standard?” Here I give a brief discussion to answer this important question.
All of my understanding of the Early Church Fathers stems from the role of the “primitive,” “catholic,” and “apostolic” tradition that was seen to be the “rule of faith” for orthodoxy and how it developed. It mightily influenced the Canon of the New Testament and other Christian doctrines. In fact, the central authority claim of the Roman Catholic Church that raised me is centered on an unbroken succession of apostolic authority in the church. It’s even in its creed: “…we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church…” This tradition locates genuine Christian authority in Peter and the Apostles whom Christ charged with authority in the Gospel of John.

Continue reading “The “Rule of Faith””