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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meat Puppets Gone Wild: Dialogue with an Unbeliever Continued

by "Grace"

(Susan Fox's Note: We previously published a Dialogue with an Unbeliever   It was part of a three-way conversation between a man, we simply called “Brother,” and myself  and my friend, “Grace,” who first appeared on this blog in a piece called Sex and the Mystery of Gravy  In this post you see the portion of the dialogue that occurred between Brother and Grace. Brother's posts are labeled "Anonymous.")

Anonymous: If God is so good, then why does he punish us when we don't follow his word? Why did he supposedly wipe out millions of sinners with the Great Flood, an act akin to mass genocide? He created all of these people with the ability to sin, and when they did sin, he murdered them for it. What kind of god does that? Not a loving god - a cruel and testing god.

I don't want to offend your belief but I have spent a lot of time reading objective theological material, particularly on the history of the Christian god. I am convinced, without a shadow of doubt, that he was created by man.

Gods have always been, and will always be, the greatest way to control a society. Why? Because they often rule with:
1: Fear
2: Guilt
3: The promise of a glorious afterlife.

And best of all, you can't argue with them, assassinate them, or vote them out. If you manage to convince a large number of people that your god is real, then you can tell them to do whatever you want.

I truly believe that if Christianity didn't come with the promise of reward after death, it wouldn't have a fraction of the followers it does today.

I refuse to be made to feel the way I do by the sheep of a social marketing campaign.
Are we Meat Puppets?

“Grace”: I don't know, Susan.  This guy seems not to have a hunger for the transcendent.  It is very difficult to convince people of God's existence when they think they don't need Him.  If they are content with being just an accidental creation of a random meaningless universe, and they have no fear of death, or even a little concern about it, then what can religion mean to them?  Most religions are an attempt to make sense of the fact of our existence, and to help us make our way on the path of life, and to give us hope.  Various religions approach these goals with very different beliefs, but what can you say to a convinced materialist?  If he has made "science" his god, and believes that he is an accidental electronic meat puppet, then conversation with him is not possible.  Many people have that belief system today.

Of course, very few of them believe it consistently.  A true materialist would have no reason to condemn any action by a fellow human being.  True anarchy would reign everywhere, at all times, if there were no moral imperatives.  And society would quickly self-destruct.  In the end, moral relativism equals NO morality.  Do whatever you want.  But most materialists have never heard of the principle of non-contradiction, and even if they have, refuse to observe the rules of logic in conducting their own lives.  A good thing, too, or the world would be even more wicked than it is.  Many people who believe they are materialists continue to behave in conformity with at least some of the moral precepts that God writes on our hearts, and that the religion of the Jews and the Catholics have encoded.

I will grant that it is very difficult to understand why God allows us so much freedom.  If the Jews are His chosen people, and the Catholic Church is the fulfillment of Judaism, then why did He permit the Jews and the Church to suffer so many reverses?  Why are so many people blind to the truth of the Church?  Why did God permit the fracture of Christendom into thousands of competing denominations?  Why did He permit the rise of an evil competing cult called Islam that swept away the Body of Christ in one country after another, and continues to do so in our time?  Why did He permit the Holocaust and all the other holocausts, which have killed so many millions?   Why does he allow us to be so confused about our sexuality that we treat it as trivial entertainment and kill the by-products—our children—in the holocaust of abortion?

As St. Faustina said in her diary, I am amazed that God permits humanity to exist at all.  It is another great mystery.  It is not wrong at all that Brother asks the profound question of why a good God permits evil and suffering.  It is THE question, and one that we will never answer to anyone's satisfaction during our time here on earth, though many have tried. 

But it is even harder to answer this question:  Why does anything exist at all?  Why is there so much goodness and beauty in the world?  Why have so many people given their lives in loving service to their fellow human beings in the name of Jesus, if they are just accidental electronic meat puppets who should logically think only of their own desires?  If Brother has any curiosity left in his soul, let him read the story of St Damian, who cared for the lepers in Hawaii.  Of St Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life for another in a concentration camp.  Of Mother Teresa.  But even Mother Teresa's story cannot reach angry atheists.  They have a great hatred for her, and call her hell's angel.  Cf. Christopher Hitchens. 
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Her existence is the greatest challenge to their beliefs.  But even the thousands of loving saints, and the great miracles of Fatima and Lourdes cannot convince those who are so heavily invested in following their own will that they must deny God. 

Why was I given the grace of conversion and other people, much more worthy of this grace than I, have not been favored?  I have no idea.  But I pray that Brother will someday receive this grace.

P.S.  Christians, myself included, often forget about the best reason to believe:  joy.  Yes, the fear of the Lord is holy and salutary, but it can be servile fear.  A slave fears to offend his master.  But a Christian is the adopted son or daughter of God the Father, and he or she runs to the Father with joy.  Yes, I may fear offending God, the way I would fear disappointing a loving earthly father, but more than that, I just want to love Him and be in His presence.  I am His beloved daughter, and He is my everything.  Christians are so full of joy that they created the great art and music and architecture of the Catholic Church to praise Him and express their love.  Sometimes when I think of one of the great truths of the faith, I get a silly grin on my face and I just want to burst out singing.  Since I'm not a very good singer, I ask the angels to praise him as they did on that first Christmas Eve.  This joy is what the saints experience to an even greater degree.  The patron saint of my city, St Joseph of Cupertino, (1603-1663,) would literally fly when he heard the names of Jesus and Mary.  He would fly for joy, and remain suspended in the air for long periods.  This is a saint who lived in modern times, and his flights were witnessed by hundreds of people.  Why have most people nowadays never heard of him?  When they see Cupertino on their Apple products, why do they not say, "Oh, a town named for St. Joseph of Cupertino!”? Why do they just say "Huh?  What's Cupertino?"  It is literally a conspiracy by the enemy to make sure as many people as possible are ignorant of modern day miracles.  Just as it is Satan's object to make more people ignorant of the miracle of Christmas.  The devil wants to trample on the joy of Christmas and the joy of the saints, but so far he hasn't managed to win completely.  Dear Jesus, may your joy reign in every heart.

Some time went by and “Grace” responded to Brother’s third post already addressed by Susan Fox in Dialogue with an Unbeliever   

“Grace”: Brother, I am sorry it has taken so long for me to reply to your posts.  I am a mom, and this is a very busy time of year for moms.  Also, I am doubtless not the right person to address your many points of discussion; although I have a couple of master's degrees, I am nonetheless just a housewife, not a scholar.  But I will try to reply to a few of your topics as best I can.

Anonymous: "I don't see us as simply "meat puppets". We are the result of a truly incredible billion-year-old biological journey. To call us "meat puppets" is unfairly belittling the absolute wonder that is nature, science, and mathematics. This is the true language of the universe. And that is something you can't actually logically deny. It's black and white truth. Maybe God created this language. Maybe evolution is the creation of God. Why not? Would you ever accept that theory - that God created the wonder that is evolution? I love that idea. It's harmonious."

I am so happy to know that you do not see yourself as merely a "meat puppet."  You have awe before the wonder of nature, and that means we share a value.  Why should I care that a fellow human shares one of my values, such as awe in the face of nature?  Because it makes dialogue possible.  It is impossible to have a deep conversation with people who have no awe before the wonder of nature.  Such people most often believe that we are merely animals, material products of blind forces in a meaningless universe; as such, they also believe that human beings, themselves and others, have only relative value, not intrinsic worth.  Such people are scary.  The only thing one can do when confronted with one of them is to take cover and prepare for self-defense.   But with someone who marvels over nature, one can have a conversation—always better than combat.  And I am grateful for this shared value.   Awe is the beginning of the virtue of religion.  (What is the virtue of religion?  True religion means giving God His due.  And what can God justly expect of us?   Praise, thanks, love, and respect for the lives of His creatures, our fellow humans.)

I am surprised that you would think that all Christians would have a problem with the theory of evolution.   I believe that God created everything that has being, and that would include the means of evolution.  Here we have another shared value:  I, too, enjoy the idea that God created human beings through evolution.

It is true that some Christians have a problem with evolution, or other scientific discoveries, based on a faulty understanding of the Bible, but not Catholics.  The Church has never condemned the theory of evolution.  Neither has she provided a detailed endorsement of it.  The Church has the wisdom to know that scientific theories themselves evolve, as scientists make further discoveries.  For example, all we needed to travel to the moon was Newtonian physics, but by the time men had made the trip in 1969, that older system of physics had long been superseded by quantum mechanics as a deeper mode of explaining the universe.  And cosmology continues to evolve today, as will the theory of evolution.  (Today we have only begun to wonder about the natural processes that brought about life as we know it in the world, and we have labeled our theories about these processes with the name of evolution.) 

The Church encourages and applauds the progress of scientific knowledge, but her mission is not primarily to advance science, though many great scientists have been Catholics.   Her mission, rather, is to give man the wisdom to use scientific discoveries for good.  And that mission is part of her larger goal to help men and women lead lives of virtue as they make their way toward Heaven.

Anonymous: "There are rules in the Bible that we now ignore as they are simply far too brutal and insane for modern society. Well, how do we know which rules to ignore if we are incapable of morality outside of the Bible? Where do THOSE moral judgments come from?"


“Grace”:The Bible is not the easiest book to read, as anyone who has ever tried to plow through it on his or her own can attest.  For starters it is written in Hebrew and Greek over a long span of history, perhaps a period of more than a thousand years.  Most people would not try to read even well-known ancient writers such as Plato or Virgil without Cliff Notes or the equivalent at hand, so why should they expect to "get" the Bible without reliable scholarly guides?  People who just take the Bible and run with it often end up inventing whole new religions, such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, to name some modern examples.  There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such inventions down through the centuries.  And many of them have gone seriously wrong, such as Jim Jones and the People's Temple, or David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

The Catholic Church has a long, coherent, uninterrupted tradition of interpreting the Bible.  It never makes the mistake of treating it like a science textbook, or a Big Book of Rules, or a crystal ball to read the future, as so many have.  The Fathers of the Church from earliest times have recognized that there are many genres of writing in the various books of the Bible; Catholic biblical commentators explain which are eye witness accounts, like the Gospels, and which are the expression of important religious truths in poetic story form, like the account of creation in Genesis.

Although the creation accounts in Genesis are written in poetic story form, The Church has always insisted that they contain important truths of faith and morals, despite the ridicule of those who consider themselves the intelligentsia, from ancient times to the present day.    Here is the first truth:  God created the world.  "Let there be light".  And then He created the sun, moon, stars, the earth, the oceans, plants and animals.  Whether the biblical "days and nights" represented a short period of time or eons is incidental to the story.  The author is using figurative language that the listeners of his day will be able to grasp as the story is told around the campfire.  But the essential idea is that there is a Creator, a transcendent being who existed before the universe was created, and who, after the initial "fiat", developed the world over time—here one can easily see that the Biblical creation account is consonant with the theory of evolution, although it is expressed in poetic form.

In addition to the development of the world over time, or evolution, Genesis also describes something that is very consonant with the Big Bang.  We have become so accustomed to mention of the Big Bang that we forget that it is a relatively new theory.  Many ancient philosophers believed in a cyclical universe.  Still others believed in creation, but thought the universe was static.  Scientists proposed a static universe into the 20th century.  Then in 1927 a Belgian priest named Fr. LeMaitre proposed the Big Bang theory.  The idea was not well received by other scientists.  Being prejudiced against religion, they thought it was too much like the story in Genesis —(Let there be light)--and therefore couldn't possibly be true. 

At present there are still many scientists who are so biased against the idea of a Creator that they cannot accept a universe with an absolute beginning, ex nihilo. To get around the necessity of a Creator they propose an infinite series of "multi-verses", essentially the old idea of cyclical universes, even though there is no empirical evidence to support such theories.

If you enjoy reading about current cosmological theory, you might enjoy the book, “New Proofs for the Existence of God” by Robert Spitzer.  The book details the amazing balance of forces that makes our anthropic universe possible, and describes the current state of theoretical physics, including many discoveries made since 2003.  The book is written for the intelligent layman.  Even if one remains unconvinced by the arguments for a Creator, the book is still enjoyable for the descriptions of recent discoveries in physics.

Although the creation stories of Genesis are consonant with evolution and the Big Bang, it would still be a mistake to try to read the Bible like a science textbook.  You would not go to a science fiction movie to learn about science, even though the writers might have done their best to be compatible with current scientific knowledge.  But while being entertained, you might also find some valuable ideas embedded in the plot of a science fiction movie.  For example, Ender's Game proposes the idea that it is wrong to commit genocide.

The stories in the Bible have tremendous variety, but they all follow the thread of a larger Story, the Story of salvation history, God's efforts to save His fallen children.  And there are important truths in those stories that can help us lead good lives.  Truths like these:  "You are not just accidents of an uncaring Universe.  You have a Creator, a Father who loves you, and He has created you in His own image, with an eternal soul, and He wants you to live, not like an animal, but like his child, because you are destined to live with Him in Heaven.    Furthermore, every human on earth is literally your brother and sister, because every person has Adam and Eve as their first parents." 


The teaching that we are all part of one human family has been confirmed by modern genetics, and scientists even speak of the first human mother as the African Eve.  But well into the twentieth century, this truth, insisted upon by the Church in all its centuries of teaching, was disputed by scientists and fanatically rejected by the likes of Hitler and a long line of eugenicists and racial superiority theorists that stretched back into the 19th century.  They used a poor understanding of the theory of evolution and ersatz science to propose an "Aryan" super race that deserved to dominate "sub-human" populations.  Thank God the Nazi "supermen" were defeated.

Why does the Genesis story matter?  Not because it is consonant with modern genetic discoveries, but because It teaches us an important truth: all humans are literally one flesh, bone of one bone, brother and sister, a family.  And what are we supposed to do with our family?  We are supposed to love them.  Not kill them, exploit them, and torture them.  We are supposed to love them.  We are supposed to do unto them, as we would have them do unto us.

That is what God is trying to teach us in Scripture, but we need the guidance of the Church that He founded to understand Scripture.  Only a God with a really cruel sense of humor would give us a book as complex as the Bible and expect us to understand it without a guide.

The truth is one. There can be no compartmentalization of the truth, as in religious truth vs. scientific truth.  Otherwise, the term is meaningless.  No truth of Catholic dogma is going to contradict a scientific truth.  For example, when science teaches, "all humans are mammals," the Church will not say nay.  But dogmas, for the most part, are not concerned with science.  They are concerned with morals, such as "Do not kill," and with truths of the faith.  The latter are beyond the ken of science.  Scientists can neither prove nor disprove the truths of the faith, such as "God is a Trinity," or "Christ is truly God and truly man."   Science describes truth based on empirical knowledge; faith does not contradict empirical knowledge, but goes beyond it.

If there is a Catholic teaching about faith and morals that contradicts a scientific fact, I would like to know about it, because I have a passion for the truth, and I don't want to believe as truth, something that is false.

Just as religious truth and scientific truth must be consonant, so must truths about history.  Here follows one of your statements which contradicts verifiable facts of history:


Anonymous: "And yes, I do not like Mother Teresa in the slightest. She was an incredibly cruel woman. The many accounts I have read about her infuriate me. She was a horrible, greedy, hypocritical, and deluded woman who was knowingly responsible for the suffering of countless people. She could've saved lives but she was so obsessed with suffering that she let people die in agony - because "that's what Jesus would want". She refused people simple antibiotics because it would mean that the Vatican would have to fork out the bill. Of course, when she became ill, she received the best medical treatment money can buy. Go figure.

All that she did was make millions of dollars for the Catholic Church, often through cruel, dishonest, and illegal means. I have no respect for her, and anybody that does either knows very little about her, or is equally deluded. Go tell the families of the people who suffered under her hand about how great she is. Something tells me they will not agree. The world is a better place without her. Please don't tell me you respect this woman, Susan..."

“Grace”: You are right to not take everything written about celebrities for granted.  The Church has always been plagued with people who are "faking it" for their own ends, witness the sex scandals.  This goes all the way back to Judas.  But the case of Mother Teresa should be rather easy to resolve.  If you want to know the truth about Mother Teresa, just follow the example of any good professional historian.  She lived so recently that she is our contemporary; we are not trying to find out if Socrates was really a good guy or not.  This is someone who died in 1997, for Pete's sake! So be a good historian:  read primary sources and talk to eyewitnesses. 

So many people went to India to volunteer with her that she could have been running a Hilton.  Look at the accomplishments and continuing work of the convents and charities that she founded all over the world.  I have a friend on my block who worked with her nuns in California.  My sister-in-law met her at a religious conference.  Mother Teresa was one of the most accessible celebrities the world has ever seen.  And to be fair and honest to yourself, don’t just read "accounts" written by her enemies who have an ax to grind, enemies who dislike her faithfulness to Catholic moral teaching and want to discredit her for that reason.  Grant to Mother Teresa the same objectivity you would want if someone were investigating you.  If you live in a large American city, you could probably find one of her missions and volunteer there in order to get to know her followers yourself.

One thing in your writing tells me that you, like many people, have no knowledge of how the Catholic Church is organized.

Non-Catholics often think the Church is a big centralized corporation, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  The Church is organized like a family.  It is a family.  Just as every diocese in the world is an independent entity, the various religious orders like the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, all have to manage their own finances.   Think of a religious order as a grown-up child that has left the nest to form a new nuclear family.  They are financially independent.  They don't send money to Mom and Dad, in this analogy, the Vatican. And the Vatican does not send money to them, except occasionally, in very token quantities.  For example, maybe one of the Pope's charities will send some modest funds for an order to distribute to the needy if there has been a big natural disaster as an expression of solidarity.  But, if a religious order goes bankrupt—too bad.  It has to disband.  The Vatican is not going to come to the rescue.  And the idea of Mother Teresa sending the Pope the bill for anti-biotics is just ludicrous.

Anonymous: "Nothing on this earth has led to more ruthless bloodshed than religion."

“Grace:” This is a belief that is often tossed into debates with no facts to substantiate it.  Most wars and bloodshed and human suffering have been caused by people who want to kill/enslave others and take their stuff.  It is true that sometimes there is an additional religious or ideological component.     I am a reader of history, not an historian, but it is difficult to imagine a belief system that has led to more human deaths and suffering than communism or Nazism, and both of those belief systems were profoundly committed to atheism, and the extirpation of Christianity.  But it is right to condemn war and bloodshed, whatever the motivation.

In closing, I will only say that I hope we share another value:  a passion for the truth.  I want to follow the truth wherever it leads.  I want to be a seeker.  My belief in the Catholic faith does not mean that I have arrived at the end.  I feel like I have just begun to discover the truth.  And truth discovered only leaves one hungry for deeper truth. 
Regards,
Grace
"Grace" and Susan Fox's dialogue with Brother ended here for the time being. Anonymous, who truly had become our Brother, said:
I very much cherish both of your feedbacks. I will take some time to mull all of this over!
Take care.

You are both such well-balanced and intellectual people. I really do love reading your replies.

Susan and Grace: God bless you Brother. We enjoyed the  discussion. Please feel free to respond any time.  

3 comments:

  1. It is easy to understand the hatred and rage of many an unbeliever. They have many, many things to be angry about. Firstly, the failure of most Christians to live up to the name. Most people have not met an authentic Christian --- a very big problem.

    However, though people have failings, it is important for non-believers to consider carefully the fruit of non-belief. It is far, far more destructive and bitter.... Russell, that wily agnostic professed grave misgivings about a vain, anthropocentric future society. In reading the arguments, perspectives of most non-believers, his assessment seems to be very correct. They seem to attack a "god" that does not exist... a veritable straw man; they launch into ad hominem attacks; and they constantly change the subject matter.

    For example, vis-a-vis abortion and homosexuality (why homosexuality and abortion should be so much loved by non-believers is a mystery. After all, those two positions are nothing to do with Revelation, but common sense and science), a number of non-believers immediately attack the Catholic Church, infer falsities vis-a-vis religion.

    I detect not so much a rational approach and a desire to debate and concede error, but - I say this without a presupposed ad hominem attack - nearly an occultic preoccupation with death.

    The pathological hatred of the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob passes from honest non-belief and agnosticism of the searcher to a sinister mindset that parallels the death cult of the Nazis. We should remember the hatred of the Revealed God by the Nazis; it was no wonder they hated the rabbi and the priest; they hated Christianity and Judaism. It is this visceral hatred that denotes more than an intellectual curiosity, a doubt, a struggle with the unknown.....

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  2. When these non-believers express such hate, we get a small taste of the hatred felt by Christ when on the Cross. I am saddened that yo have to be insulted by someone, just because you love them. They really must be going through some terrible torment and trial. Their hatreds of God is probably a strange perverted self-hatred.

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  3. Barona, That's true. We are permitted a small sip of the rejection Jesus Christ suffered in His life, and He loved them far more than we do. In fact, that we love them at all is simply Christ living His life in us.

    Sometimes the journey to understanding can seem very rough. And people will reject our message, and walk away. But I cherish the end of this post -- the comment from "Brother"
    "I very much cherish both of your feedbacks. I will take some time to mull all of this over!
    Take care.
    You are both such well-balanced and intellectual people. I really do love reading your replies."

    That is the conclusion to both this piece and the "Dialogue with An Unbeliever" --http://christsfaithfulwitness.blogspot.com/2013/12/christian-dialogue-with-unbeliever.html

    I chose the art for the blog, and I love that picture of Brother and little Sister with the quote, "Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero." God bless you. Thank you for tweeting with me. Susan Fox

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