Showing posts with label Kreeft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kreeft. Show all posts

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 6

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
13. The basic arguments for and against abortion
There are three steps, or premises, to the argument for outlawing abortion.

The first is that one of the most fundamental purposes of law is to protect human rights, especially the first and foundational right, the right to life.

The second is that all human beings have the right to life.

The third is that the already-conceived but not-yet born children of human beings are human beings.

From these three premises it necessarily follows that the law must protect the right to life of unborn children.

There are only three possible reasons for disagreeing with this conclusion and being “pro-choice”instead of “prolife.” One may deny the first, second, or third premises. For if all three are admitted, the “pro-life” conclusion follows.

Thus there are three different kinds of “pro-choicers”:

First, there are those who admit that all persons have a right to life and that unborn children are persons, but deny that this right should be protected by law (the first
premise). This is a serious legal error.

“The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation. ‘The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin….’80 ‘The moment a positive [human] law deprives a category
of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . .’81” (C2273).

Second, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that unborn children are human beings, but deny that all human beings have the
right to life (the second premise). This is a very serious moral error.

It is essentially the philosophy of power, of “might makes right.” Those in power – doctors, mothers, legislators, adults – decree the right to kill those who lack the
power to defend themselves: the smallest, most vulnerable, and most innocent of all human beings. No good reason can justify this decree; a good end does not justify an intrinsically evil means. If the babies shared the powers of the abortionists and could fight back with scalpels, there would be few abortions.

Third, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that all humans have that right, but deny that unborn children are humans (the third premise). This is a serious factual and scientific error.

Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, all science texts taught the biological understanding that the life of any individual of any species begins at conception, when sperm and ovum unite to create a new being with its own complete and unique genetic code, distinct from both father and mother. All growth and development from then on is a matter of degree, a gradual unfolding of what is already there. There is no specific or distinct point in our development when we become human. (What were we before that – birds?) Only when abortion became legal did the science textbooks change their language and cease teaching this understanding – not because of any new science but because of a new politics.

Abortion is not “a complex issue.” Few moral issues could be clearer. As Mother Teresa has said,“if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
End of series.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 5

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
11. The universal agreement in the Catholic tradition about abortion
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion [as distinct from miscarriage or spontaneous abortion]. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable” (C 2271).

The earliest Christian document we have after the New Testament, the first-century “Letter to Diognetus,” mentions abortion as one of the things Christians never
do, as a distinctive visible feature of their faith. The latest Ecumenical Council,Vatican II, reaffirmed this teaching in totally uncompromising terms:“‘. . . abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes’76” (C 2271).

The presence of “dissenters” or of heretics who reject some certain, essential Catholic (“Catholic” means “universal”) teaching does not make that teaching uncertain,
unessential, or non-universal. The Church’s teaching did not come from human opinion, so it cannot be changed by human opinion.

12. The Church’s policy on abortion
Catholic tradition distinguishes “formal”and “material” cooperation in any evil. “Formal cooperation”means direct, deliberate doing of the evil – for instance, a mother freely choosing to pay a doctor to abort her baby, the doctor performing
the abortion, or a nurse directly helping the doctor to perform it.“Material cooperation” means indirect or nondeliberate aid – for instance, contributing money to a hospital that performs abortions. Material cooperation is a “gray area.” Even paying taxes can be material cooperation in abortion when the government uses tax money to finance health insurance that covers abortions. It is not possible to avoid all material cooperation with evil. But it is possible, and necessary, to avoid all formal cooperation with evil, for any reason. No good reason can justify an intrinsically evil act.

“Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical [official Church-law] penalty of excommunication to this crime
against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,’77 ‘by the very commission of the offense’78 . . .” (C2272).

This does not mean that all who commit this sin are damned. Excommunication is not automatic damnation. But it does mean they have broken their communion with
the Body of Christ. For Christ cannot commit such a crime, and to be a Catholic is to be a member of his very Body, to be his hands and fingers. It is not Christ’s hands that abort Christ’s children.

“The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy” (C 2272). Forgiveness is always available for any sin, if sincerely repented, and ministries of reconciliation like “Project Rachel” deal compassionately with women who have had abortions.

Mother Teresa says: “Every abortion has two victims: the body of the baby and the soul of the mother.”The first is beyond repair, but the second is not; and the Church
does everything possible to repair and restore souls and lives torn by sin – which in one way or another is true of all of us. The Church does not judge the individual soul,nor should any of us. She says, as her Master did, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” She is not in the business of stone-casting. But she is in the business of the accurate labeling of human acts, just like her Master, who said not only “neither do I condemn you,” but also “go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
Coming next, the basic arguments for and against abortion.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 4

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
9. Sins against the fifth Commandment
These include:
  1. “Infanticide [killing an infant],70 fratricide [killing one’s brother or sister], parricide [killing one’s father or mother], and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break” (C 2268).
  2. “The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death” (C 2269).
  3. “The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason,
  4. “as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger” (C 2269).Also,
  5. abortion,
  6. euthanasia, and
  7. suicide all demand special treatment today, since the traditional consensus against them is rapidly breaking down in so-called “civilized” and “advanced” societies in the West.
10. Abortion and the Right to Life
The “bottom line” first:“[h]uman life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception [its beginning]. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life72” (C 2270).

The American Declaration of Independence has the same philosophy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We cannot pursue our end of happiness without liberty. (Therefore slavery is a great evil.) But we cannot have liberty or pursue happiness without having life. (Therefore
murder is a greater evil.)

The State did not create us, design us, or give us life. Nor did it give us the right to life. Therefore the State cannot take away that right.

All persons, not just some, have a “natural right” to life simply because of their nature, because of what they are: human persons. Only if someone gives up his right to life by threatening the life of another is it right to take his life, to protect the innocent other person. This is the morality of Western civilization, of Greek and Roman classicism at its best, of religious Judaism, of Islam, and of Christianity, of
Biblical Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Roman Catholicism. It is the “sanctity of life” ethic.

The other philosophy, the “quality of life” ethic, holds that only some, not all, human beings have an inalienable right to life; and that some human beings may draw the line for others and exclude them from the community of persons, from those who have the right to life. This same principle is at work whether those excluded persons are unwanted, unborn babies, the old, the sick, the dying, those in pain, those of a certain “inferior”or unwanted race,those who have the wrong political opinions, or those who are declared “severely handicapped” because they fail to come up to a certain standard of intelligence or performance such as “significant social interaction” – which standard is always determined by the killers.

Thus the “quality of life” ethic denies the most basic human equality and the most basic of all human rights. No two moral philosophies could be more radically at war with each other than the philosophy of the culture Pope John Paul II has called the “culture of death” and the philosophy of the Church of the God of life.
Coming next, the universal agreement in the Catholic tradition about abortion.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 3

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
4. The basic principle of Catholic ethics of human life
Persons are not things, objects of manipulation and control and design, to be judged by some other, higher standard than persons. There is no higher standard – God himself is personal (“I AM”). Persons are subjects, I’s. They are subjects of rights.They are not to be judged as worth more or less on some abstract, impersonal scale of health, intelligence,physical power, or length of life. Each life, each individual, each human being is unique, and each is equally and infinitely precious. That is the root of Catholic morality on all issues of human life.

5. Christ and the fifth Commandment

Instead of shrinking the fifth Commandment, as the modern “quality of life” ethic does, Christ expanded it. “In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ (Mt 5:21.) and adds to it the proscription against anger, hatred, and vengeance [Mt 5:21-22]. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. (Cf. Mt 5:22-39; 5:44) He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath” (Cf. Mt 26:52.).
Coming next, sins against the fifth commandment.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 2

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
2. The "sanctity-of-life ethic"
The opposite philosophy of life is the traditional "sanctity-of-life ethic," which is taught by all the great religions of the world, is the basis of Western civilization from its Judeo-Christian roots, is presupposed n our laws, and is the basis of all Catholic teaching about the fifth commandment.

There are three reasons for the sanctity of human life: its origin, its nature, and its end.

"'Human life is sacred because'" [a]"'from its beginning it involves the creative action of God'" [b]"'and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator,'" [c]"'who is its sole end'"1 (CCC2258).

"'God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right irectly to destroy an innocent human being'"2 (CCC2258).

If this is not true, then life is not sacred and God is not God. If it is true, then the "quality-of-life ethic" is as serious a form of idolatry as the worship of stone idols, false pagan gods, or evil spirits--all of which in ancient times also manifested themselves in the practice of human sacrifice, especially of children.

3. The sense of the sacred
Not all men throughout history have known the true reason for the sacredness of human life: that one God created all men. But most men and most societies have instinctively intuited that moral conclusion, even without that theological premise, and felt a strong sense of the sacredness of human life. they have often violated it--history is full of murder and bloodshed--but the sense of shame and guilt remained attached to killing, especially killing the innocent. These instinctive feelings--the sense of the sacred and the sense of shame and guilt--seem to be in crisis today.

The loss of the sense of the sacredness of human life seems closely connected with the loss of the sense of sacredness of three other closely connected things: motherhood, sex, and God. Of motherhood, for by far the most dangerous place in the world today in America is a mother's womb during the child's first nine months of life. Of sex, for the "sexual revolution" was a radical change not only in behavior but in vision, in philosophy. Of God, for "the fear of the Lord," which Scripture calls "the beginning of wisdom," is usually thought to be "primitive" and even harmful, even by many religious educators.

1 CDF, instruction, Donum vitae, intro. 5.
2 CDF, instruction, Donum vitae, intro. 5.
Coming next, the basic principle of Catholic ethics of human life.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
Chapter 7
The Fifth Commandment: Moral Issues of Life and Death

1. The "quality-of-life ethic"
Throughout the twentieth century, Western civilization has witnessed a titanic struggle between two radically opposed philosophies of human life: the traditional "sanctity of life ethic" and the new "quality of life" ethic." This new morality judges human lives by the standard of "quality," and by ths standard it declares some lives not worth living and the deliberate "terminatino" of these lives morally legitimate. ("Termination" is the usual euphamism for killing) Life Unworthy of Life was the way it was described in the title of the first book to win public acceptance for this new ethic, by German doctors before World War II--the basis and beginning of the Nazi medical practices.

The criteria by which a human life is most often judged in this "quality-of-life ethic" today are:
  • a. Whether it is wanted by another. Today this is usually applied to unborn children, to justify abortion: if the baby is "unwanted" by the mother, or predicted to be "unwanted" by "society," then it is thought morally right to take that life, in other words, to kill it. In other places and times, other "unwanted" groups have been denied the right to life, such as jews (the Holocaust), Blacks (lynching), and people with the wrong political or religious beliefs (in totalitarian states).
  • b. Whether it has "too much" pain. Today this is usually applied to justify killing the old. But there is an increasing pressure to justify and legalize medically assisted suicide at any age.
  • c. Whether it is severely handicapped, mentally or physically. Of course, there is no clear dividing line between more and less "severe" handicaps, or between "much" pain and "too much" pain. And with no objective criteria, the decision of whether it is right to kill must be baed on subjective feeling and desire.
Coming next, "sanctity-of-life ethic."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Embarrassing Problem About Proverbs

I never thought of Proverbs as challenging our concepts of what it means to be "advanced," especially in our society. However, it makes sense. Those who are most bored by "truisms" are those who often are trying to cut corners somehow. Of course, I might be a bit biased on this subject because I absolutely love old sayings and Proverbs is chock full of them.
Let us begin with the embarrassing problem about this book (Proverbs). Almost always, the more intelligent, clever, and original you are, the more bored you are by Proverbs. It tells you nothing you didn't know before. It is a book of platitudes, of old, well-worn truisms. It is, simply, dull.

Yes, that is how the most "advanced" minds see Proverbs. And our nation, our civilization, and our world are today threatened with destruction precisely because of the ideas of those "advanced" minds, because we have departed from the old platitudes. If there is anything out civilization needs in order to survive the threat of moral and spiritual and perhaps physical destruction, it is to return to these "safe," "dull" platitudes. For they are true. They are a road map to life, and we are lost in the woods. ...

Like the Psalms, Proverbs is not meant to be read straight through as if it were a narrative. The book is a toolbench, a library: it is meant to be sampled, browsed through, picked at. It is a collection, assembled bit by bit and meant to be disassembled and used bit by bit. In our age of short attention spans, impatience, and only tiny slices of leisure time, it is an ideal book to dip into for a minute over your morning cup of coffee -- much more useful than the morning paper. As Henry David Thoreau, who despised newspapers, used to say, "Read not the Times; read the eternities." These are the eternities.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Bible and "Sacred History"

Kreeft here makes an important distinction that often is overlooked in these very concrete days in which we live.
The Bible is "sacred history." That does not mean anything less realistic than secular history, as some modern theologians imply--as if "Bible stories" belonged to the category of myths or fairy tales. Rather, "sacred history" means history from a double point of view, the divine as well as the human. It has two natures. Like Jesus, the Bible is the Word of God in the words of man. Its human nature is not suppressed but fulfilled by its divine nature.

The history of God's chosen nation is full of divinely revealed secrets about national life and death, about the secret of survival and salvation socially as well as individually. No book of social, political, or historical science has ever shown more clearly how nations rise and fall, succeed and fail, by using or refusing their lifeline to God, the source of all life, this-worldly as well as other-worldly and social as well as individual. For Israel's history is the key to the world's. Israel is not God's exception but God's rule, God's paradigm case.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moses: The Most Complete Prefigurement of Christ

Exodus centers on Moses, greatest of all Jewish prophets, the man who spoke with God face to face and lived. Moses is as prominent and primary in Judaism as Mohammed is in Islam or as Confucius is in Confucianism. Yet his deepest significance is beyond Judaism: Moses symbolizes and foreshadows Christ. Let's look at some of the ways he does, some of the parallels between Moses and Christ.
  1. Both were outsiders (Ex 3:1-10; Jn 3:13)
  2. Both received long training before their public ministry (Ex 2:10; Lk 3:23)
  3. Both performed many miracles (Ex 7-14; Jn 3:2 and 21:25)
  4. Both were preserved from an evil king's plot to murder them as babies (Ex 2:2-10; Mt 2:14-15; and Rev 12:1-6 and 13-17)
  5. Both stood up against masters of evil (Ex 7:11; Mt 4:1)
  6. Both fasted for forty days (Ex 34:28; Mt 4:2)
  7. Both controlled the sea (Ex 14:21; Mt 8:26)
  8. Both fed a multitude of people (Ex 16:15; Mt 14:20-21)
  9. Both showed the light of God's glory on their faces (Ex 34:35; Mt 17:2)
  10. Both endured rebellion from their people (Ex 15:24; Jn 5:45-47)
  11. Both were scorned at home (num 21:1; Jn 7:5)
  12. Both saved their people by intercessory prayer (Ex 32:32; Jn 17:9)
  13. Both spoke as God's mouthpiece (Deut 18:18; Jn 7:16-17)
  14. Both had seventy helpers (Num 11:16-17; Lk 10:1)
  15. Both gave law from a mountain (Ex 20; Mt 5-7)
  16. Both established memorials (Ex 12:14; Lk 22:19)
  17. Both reappeared after death (Mt 17:8; Acts 1:3)
  18. Both did the work of prophets, priests, and kings -- the three most important positions of authority in the ancient world
  19. Both conquered the world, the flesh, and the devil
  20. Both, finally brought their people from slavery tofreedom and to the Promised Land
Moses is the most complete symbol of prefigurement of Christ in the Bible.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Friday, April 20, 2007

A God of Infinite Justice and Infinite Love

It's often said that the Old Testament, especially Genesis, teaches a God of justice, in stark contrast to Jesus, who teaches a God of forgiveness and love. It is a lie, of course. The God of the Old Testament does all that He does out of love; and the Father of Jesus needs to satisfy justice as well as love; that's why Jesus had to die. I used to think that only those who never read the Bible could fall for this fallacy. But experience has taught me otherwise. Why is it so common?

I think it comes partly from misunderstanding the literary style of Genesis. It is not meant to be psychology, either of God or humanity. The modern style of storytelling emphasizes psychological motive and scrutinizes inner consciousness. This is simply not the style of premodern writing. Augustine's Confessions is the only personal introspective autobiography in premodern literature.

Thus the "wrath of God" is not meant as a description of God's own private feelings, but of His public deeds, of how those deeds look to fallen, "wrathful" man. Psychologically, this is "projection." When God gave Lady Julian of Norwich a "showing" of His wrath, she said, "I saw no wrath but on man's part."

God is indeed a God of justice and thus of punishment, which is part of justice. But love is the motive behind all His deeds of discipline. "For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves. ... If you are left without discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb 12:6-8).
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Friday, April 13, 2007

Three Basic Explanations for Evil

This is all fascinating but especially the definition of "knowledge" at the end. Don't miss that even if you don't usually read excerpts. It puts a whole new spin on original sin.
There are only three basic explanations for evil. It is to be blamed either on God above us, nature below us, or us. Genesis 3 rejects the two convenient excuses that either God or evolution made us this way. The message of Genesis 3 is that the buck stops here. The finger that points blame is curved one hundred and eighty degrees.

Jews, who have and believe this Scripture just as Christians do, say they do not believe in "original sin" because they think of that doctrine as Calvinism, as a denial of the goodness of God's creation even when defaced by sin. But Genesis 3 does not teach Calvinistic "total depravity" (except in the sense that we are totally unable to save ourselves without divine grace, which is also taught in Orthodox Judaism). Rather, the forbidden fruit was "the knowledge of good and evil," not pure evil. There's still a little good in the worst of us, but also a little bad in the best of us.

By the way, the word knowledge here means "experience." God wanted to keep us from the knowledge of good-and-evil that comes from experiencing and tasting it (thus the image of eating fruit), not from the knowledge that understands it. The same word is used in Genesis 4 for sexual intercourse: Adam "knew" Eve, and the result was not a book but a baby.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The God Who Creates Out of Nothing

Genesis begins not just with the beginning of something, but with the beginning of everything. Its first verse uses a word for which there is no equivalent in any other ancient language. The word is bara'. It means not just to make but to create, not just to re-form something new out of something old, but to create something wholly new that was simply not there before. Only God can create, for creation in the literal sense (out of nothing) requires infinite power, since there is an infinite gap between nothing and something. Startling as it may seem, no other people every had creation stories in the true sense of the word, only formation stories. The Jewish notion of creation is a radically distinctive notion in the history of human thought. When Jewish theologians like Philo and later Christian theologians (who learned it from the Jews) told the Greeks about it, they were often ridiculed.

Yet the consequences of this notion of creation are incomparable. They include radically new notions (1) of God, (2) of nature, and (3) of human beings and human life.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft
This is right in line with what our priest spoke about in his Easter homily. He pointed out that the very fact that makes the resurrection so true is that the gospels repeatedly report that the apostles themselves didn't believe in it until Jesus showed up in person. Like any sensible person, they knew that in and of itself coming back from the dead is an unbelievable fact. The only thing that would make anyone go around proclaiming something so obviously ludicrous is if it is real.

So God has been doing the inexplicable since the very beginning. As always, Jesus showed us God up close and personal ... by doing the inexplicable in his resurrection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The God of the Old Testament

The Old Testament story distinguishes Judaism (and Christianity) from all other religions of the world in two main ways. First, we find here a religion based on historical facts, not just abstract ideas and ideals or mystical experiences. Second, the God of the Old Testament differs from the gods of other religions in at least four important ways:
  1. Only a few individuals in the ancient world, like Socrates in Greece and Ahkenaton in Egypt, rose above their society's polytheism (belief in many gods) to monotheism (belief in one God) like the Jews.

  2. Only the Jews had the knowledge of a God who created the entire universe out of nothing.

  3. Other peoples separated religion and morality. Only the God of the Bible was perfectly good, righteous, and holy as well as the Giver of the moral law, demanding moral goodness in all men.

  4. These differences are accounted for by a fourth one: although other peoples sometimes arrived at profound truths about God by their imagination (myth), their reason (philosophy), and their experience (mysticism), they mixed these truths with falsehoods because they did not have a word from God Himself. Other religions tell of man's search for God; the Bible tells of God's search for man. Other religions tell timeless truths about God; the Bible tells of God's deeds in time, in history.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ten Tips for Reading the Bible Profitably

  1. At first, forget commentaries and books that try to tell you what the Bible means. Read the Bible itself. Get it "straight from the horse's mouth." Data first. The Bible is the most interesting book ever written, but some of the books about it are among the dullest.

  2. Read repeatedly. You can never exhaust the riches in this deep mine. The greatest saints, sages, theologians, and philosophers have not exhausted its gold; you won't either.

  3. First read through a book quickly, to get an overall idea; then go back and reread more slowly and carefully. Don't rush. Forget time. Relish. Ponder. Meditate. Think. Question. Sink slowly into the spiritual sea and swim in it. Soul-surf its waves.

  4. Try to read without prejudice. Let the author speak to you. Don't impose your ideas on the book. Listen first before you talk back.

  5. Once you have listened, do talk back. Dialogue with the Author as if He were standing right in front of you -- because He is. Ask Him questions and go to His Book to see how He answers. God is a good teacher, and a good teacher wants his students to ask questions.

  6. Don't confuse understanding with evaluating. That is, don't confuse interpretation with critique. First understand, then evaluate. This sounds simple, but it is harder to do than you probably think. For instance, many readers interpret the Bible's miracle stories as myths because they don't believe in miracles. But that is simply bad interpretation. Whether or not miracles really happened, the first question is what was the author trying to say. Was he telling a parable, fable or myth? Or was he telling a story that he claimed really happened? Whether you agree with him or not is the second question, not the first. Keep first things first. Don't say "I don't believe Jesus literally rose from the dead, therefore I interpret the Resurrection as a myth." The Gospel writers did not mean to write myth but fact. If the Resurrection didn't happen, it is not a myth. It is a lie. And if it did happen, it is not a myth. It is a fact.

  7. Keep in mind these four questions, then, and ask them in this order: First, what does the passage say? That is the data. Second, what does it mean? What did the author mean? That is the interpretation. Third, is it true? That is the question of belief. Fourth, so what? What difference does it make to me, to my life now? That is the question of application.

  8. Look for "the big picture," the main point. Don't lose the forest for the trees. Don't get hung up on a few specific points or passages. Interpret each passage in its context, including the context of the whole Bible.

  9. After you have read a passage, go back and analyze it. Outline it. Define it. Get it clear. Don't be satisfied with a nice, vague feeling. Find the thought, and the structures of the thought.

  10. Be honest -- in reading any book, but especially this one, because of its total claims on you. There is only one honest reason for believing the Bible: because it is true, not because it is helpful, or beautiful, or comforting, or challenging, or useful, or even good. It it's not true, no honest person should believe it, even if it were all those other things. And if it is, every honest person should, even if it weren't [all those other things]. Seek the truth and you will find it. That's a promise (see Mt. 7:7).
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft
This is good for me to consider especially since I have a tendency to read the commentaries over reading the actual Bible itself. *for shame!*

Monday, March 26, 2007

Prayer and Bible Reading: Listening to God

Reading the Bible should be a form of prayer. The Bible should be read in God's presence and as the unfolding of His mind. It is not just a book, but God's love letter to you. It is God's revelation, God's mind, operating through your mind and your reading, so your reading is your response to His mind and will. Reading it is aligning your mind and will with God's; therefore it is a fulfillment of the prayer "Thy will be done," which is the most basic and essential key to achieving our whole purpose on earth: holiness and happiness. I challenge every reader to give a good excuse (to God, not to me, or even just to yourself) for not putting aside fifteen minutes a day to use this fundamental aid to fulfilling the meaning of your life.

Both prayer and Bible reading are ways of listening to God. They should blend: our prayer should be biblical and our Bible reading prayerful.

In Catholic theology, the Bible is sacramental: it is a sign that is an occasion for grace. The Bible fits the two classic definitions of a sacrament: (1) a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace and (2) a sign that effects what it signifies. However, unlike the seven sacraments, it does not work ex opere operato; it does not give grace by itself, but is dependent on our use of it. ...

Though it is not a sacrament, it has power. Its power comes from two wills, God's and ours. It is the Spirit's sword (Eph 6:17) that cuts our very being apart (Heb 4:12), though we must give it an opening by exposing our minds and hearts and wills to its cutting edge. When we do that, God's Kingdom comes to earth. For it first comes to that tiny but crucially important bit of earth that is your mind and will. Then it transforms your life, which your mind and will control. Then, through your life, your world.
You Can Understand the Bible
A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible
by Peter Kreeft
I think this is why I always have identified with St. Augustine a lot (we will put aside any other reasons ... ahem). St. Augustine was converted to Catholicism by reading the Bible. Although I was not converted through reading, in fact had no idea at the time that there were books about that sort of thing, I always had my "best results" in prayer when I was reading the Bible. In fact, that is the reason I also always identified with St. Teresa of Avila, who said that she could not pray without a book.

Kreeft's commentary about prayer, reading, and aligning the mind and will with God resonate on that same level. And give me impetus to return to that prayer style which always worked so well for me. (Magnificat is good but I think I need the whole book in my case.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Trinity

Another blast from HC's past.

This is one of the descriptions of the Trinity that almost lets me wrap my brain around that whole mystery ... almost. Also, one of the best descriptions ever of the family's inner essence.
Our thoughts and our loves, the two distinctively human acts that no animal can perform, issue forth from us but do not become distinct persons unless aided by the flesh. In God, they are so real that they are the two additional Persons in God: God's word, or self-expression, is so real that he is the second person in God, and the love between Father and Son is so real that he is the third Person. Human creativity, both mental and biological, is the image of the Trinity. That is one reason why the family is holy; it bears the intimate stamp of the very inner nature of God, the life of Trinitarian love, the two becoming three in becoming one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Problem of Evil

Working my way through Peter Kreeft's Fundamentals of the Faith, I continue to be struck at how well he summarizes answers to common objections to the existence of God. While the existence of evil never particularly was something that struck me as a reason there could not be a God, it clearly is one of the main objections. In fact it is one of the only two objections that St. Thomas Aquinas could find. (The other was the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God.) You can find Kreeft's chapter on evil here. What I liked most were his comments on the philosophical problem of evil.
Finally, what about the philosophical problem? It is not logically contradictory to say an all-powerful and all-loving God tolerates so much evil when he could eradicate it? Why do bad things happen to good people? The question makes three questionable assumptions.

First, who's to say we are good people? The question should be not "Why do bad things happen to good people?" but "Why do good things happen to bad people?" If the fairy godmother tells Cinderella that she can wear her magic gown until midnight, the question should be not "Why not after midnight?" but "Why did I get to wear it at all?" The question is not why the glass of water is half empty but why it is half full, for all goodness is gift. The best people are the ones who are most reluctant to call themselves good people. Sinners think they are saints, but saints know they are sinners. The best man who ever lived once said, "No one is good but God alone."

Second, who's to say suffering is all bad? Life without it would produce spoiled brats and tyrants, not joyful saints. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says simply, "The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?" Suffering can work for the greater good of wisdom. It is not true that all things are good, but it is true that "all things work together for good to those who love God."

Third, who's to say we have to know all God's reasons? Who ever promised us all the answers? Animals can't understand much about us; why should we be able to understand everything about God? The obvious point of the Book of Job, the world's greatest exploration of the problem of evil, is that we just don't know what God is up to. What a hard lesson to learn: Lesson One, that we are ignorant, that we are infants! No wonder Socrates was declared by the Delphic Oracle to be the wisest man in the world. He interpreted that declaration to mean that he alone knew that he did not have wisdom, and that was true wisdom for man.
Another reposting as I continue to listen to Peter Kreeft's audio offerings and want to share with y'all just how inspirational and mind expanding I find his thinking.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Miracles: Evidence of God's Existence

If I were an atheist, I think I would save my money to buy a plane ticket to Italy to see whether the blood of Saint Januarius really did liquefy and congeal miraculously, as it is supposed to do annually. I would go to Medjugorge. I would study all published interviews of any of the seventy thousand who saw the miracle of the sun at Fatima. I would ransack hospital records for documentated "impossible", miraculous cures. Yet, strangely, almost all atheists argue against miracles philosophically rather than historically. They are convinced a priori, by argument, that miracles can't happen. So they don't waste their time or money on such an empirical investigation. Those who do soon cease to be atheists -- like the sceptical scientists who investigated the Shroud of Turin, or like Frank Morrison, who investigated the evidence for the "myth" of Christ's Resurrection with the careful scientific eye of the historian -- and became a believer. (His book Who Moved the Stone? is still a classic and still in print after more than sixty years.)
Interesting idea isn't it? Just go check out the facts for yourself on those miracles and trust the evidence of your own eyes. It takes someone with a very open mind or a determination to prove the miracles false to go check them out. I think such people are much rarer than is commonly believed. Certainly, most atheists I know would not investigate but just argue from what they already know to be true.

By the way, I highly recommend Who Moved the Stone.

(Reposted from a long time ago ... I just like it too much.)

Friday, May 5, 2006

What Will We Do in Heaven? Part II

Peter Kreeft has an interesting answer to yesterday's question. It is one of intertwined goals. Not only does it make sense, but he even makes it sound like something I'd look forward to; like a giant house party where everyone is having the most fascinating conversations. This is heavily edited to make a readable length for the blog but I highly recommend reading the whole thing for yourself in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven But Never Dreamed of Asking.
... First we review our past life with divine understanding and appreciation of our past life with divine understanding and appreciation of every single experience, good and evil: we milk all our meaning dry. Then we do the same to others' lives from within. We know them more intimately and completely than we could ever know our most intimate friend on earth because we share God's knowledge of each one. When these two preliminary lessons are complete - when we know, love, understand, and appreciate completely by inner experience everything we and everyone else have ever experienced - only then we are spiritually mature enough to begin the endless and endlessly fascinating task of exploring, learning, and loving the facets of infinity, the inexhaustible nature of God.

The idea is not new, for it corresponds to three traditional doctrines: Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and the Beatific Vision. But each is given new life by being related to the others in this sequence. Purgatory turns out be part of Heaven rather than a distinct place, and consists of moral reeducation rather than mere punishment, rehabilitation rather than retribution. The communion of Saints is rescued from a vague, philanthropic goodwill and made as interesting as human love and communion on earth; getting to know people is in one way or another the only thing we find inexhaustible here as well as there. Finally, the contemplation of God is not boring because it is done with souls matured by the first two tasks. The difference this maturing makes is as great as the difference between a dying saint and a newborn baby...

Thursday, May 4, 2006

What Will We Do in Heaven? Part I

Reposting this from a couple of years ago because it's just so good and we haven't had any Kreeft here in way too long.

Here's a common question. First of all, why do we care? Isn't it supposed to be perfect? Secondly, there's never a really satisfying sounding answer. Peter Kreeft tackles this in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven But Never Dreamed of Asking.
Nevertheless, though the question "What do you do?" is not primary, it is important: first, because what we do flows from and reveals what we are; second, because what we do also flows into what we are, helps construct our selves. Third, creative work is a primary human need, and our conventional pictures of heaven are boring partly because they do not fulfill that need. Playing harps and polishing halos is an obviously bad answer to a good question. A second answer, the more philosophical alternative of an eternity of abstract contemplation of changeless truth, moves only philosophers (and even among them only the minority). The third, biblical answer, the enjoyment of God (Psalm 27:4), is true but must be fleshed out by the imagination. The mere words "the enjoyment of God" make sense only to those who already enjoy God; the vast majority of us seem to enjoy the vast majority of things vastly more than we enjoy God. (In fact, it is only God in these things that we enjoy, but we do not recognize that.)

We may even fear Heaven, consciously or unconsciously, because we fear boredom. Then death is truly terrible, for it offers only the two hellish alternatives of boredom or agony. Earth seems much more interesting than Heaven because there seems to be nothing to do in Heaven. What work needs to be done in a world of eternal perfection? Yet how can we be happy without creative work?
The answer to what we'll do coming tomorrow in Part II.