Thursday, August 9, 2007

Vanities of vanities – Your Answer Mr. Knapp

“Religion is the opiate of the masses.” – Karl Marx
I received an email referring to a quote from my blog, Standing in the Long Line,” in which I said, “Being self-deceived is never okay.” The following is a snippet from the email I received:

“I'm not sure if you have kept up with the most recent publishing craze, but there has been an abundance of atheistic writing that has come up in the past 3 years. Many of these authors argue that a belief in God, or religious belief at all is self-deception…Being a religious person how do you distinguish your belief from self-deception, especially regarding the insufficient evidence or objective knowledge of the many things that religious faith would have us believe?”

Again I claim, “Being self-deceived is never okay” including in matters of faith, religion, and God.

I never wanted to turn my blog into a debate, but when discussing faith, or merely being actively religious it is hard to not put myself out there into the public forum. That said, I still do not wish to thrust myself into a public debate in order to defend my faith. Therefore, if the following is not a sufficient answer for you, I am sorry. And not wishing to turn this into a long debate I will most likely not respond to any argument against it. I will not do any clarifying either. This could all turn into a vicious cycle for which I am not qualified to battle against. I am by no means an authority on this. If you wish to further your knowledge on this I can suggest a reading list of better thinkers than I. But, I hope to give a few answers here as to why I do not think that I am self-deceived by having faith in God and religion.

I have spent a lot of time seeking faith and I have found much justification for belief in God and it is far too much to rehash here. Nor do I require myself to go over the arguments frequently enough to remember how all the logic goes. Nevertheless, my degree in philosophy ought to be worth something in this matter.

I hope you will not mind if there are no concrete quotes here. This is not a formal place for me to write.

It is not a new craze to pose that religion is self-deception. Karl Marx did it. Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, attempted eliminate God all together. Of course, he clearly stated that he did not wish to do that. But, he began his major argument with the “self” alone (“I think, therefore I am”)—this is all he could know for certain. Then he proceeded to prove other indubitable truths. But he had to prove that the world he perceived was not self-deception. He had to prove that the world does exist. For what it is worth, in the end, the only way he managed to escape solopsism and prove that the world existed was to concede that there was a God and a God that was not an “Evil Deceiver”. He had to admit he was a creature. For the rest of the story you will have to read Discourse on Method, Third Meditation. This is not the full picture of Cartesianism.

There are some very good reasons as to why to believe in God that do not fall into fallacy. Just because ideas pertaining to God are often intangible does not mean that it does God does not exist. The edge of the universe is intangible, but I assure you there is evidence that it exists. Likewise there is evidence that God exists. I will try to give only few reasons why I believe that not only having faith is not self-deception, but being religious in faith practice is also not self-deceiving. Keep in mind these are reasons that I believe I am not self-deceived. If you do not comprehend me, you will have to do the mental work yourself to achieve understanding of the concepts I put forth.

Great thinker and metaphysician, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote probably some of the simplest and clearest proofs for God. They are not only true logically and theoretically, but can be the only answer in the practical sense. St. Thomas got right down to the basics. Not quoting him word for word, but generalizing his notion—he questioned what is basic that we know about the physical universe and life as we know it? Motion. Everything is in motion. This is physics (pre-Newton). Everything in motion has to have a force to set it in motion and keep it in motion. What set it ALL in motion? St. Thomas posits Pure Act. God is Pure Act. And then he waxes philosophically about what is Pure Act. Pure Act is that which set everything in motion. Pure Act is Being. It is also equal to the other universal transcendentals Truth, Good, Unity. The universe did not always exist, but in order for the universe to exist at all Being/Pure Act had to have always existed in order to put in motion all that we, mere creatures, know to exist. So, yes, Being/God does exist. It is no deception.

But perhaps, that answers nothing for you. I know I am no Aquinas. The above little paragraph, I am sure only whets your appetite. You will have to do further study on your own, and find an Aquinas scholar to help with any questions you have. Aquinas has some good proofs for why Pure Act equals Love. Love is the reason that it is important to practice religion.

Further on this subject, when I was a philosophy student at Gonzaga, I took a class on a novelist/philospher Walker Percy. He was a great proponent of semiotics, or study of signs. He said that he looks for the signs from God. He wrote a very good essay called, Why I am a Catholic, in which he pointed to the Jews as a sign. Conquerers have been trying to wipeout the Jews as a race and religion since ancient times. They have been persecuted, enslaved, massacred time and time again, and still they prosper. Historically, they are known as God’s chosen people. If that is not a sign from God, then it is some amazing, awesome coincidence. But, perhaps signs are not enough. They can seem rather childish, easily ignored and misinterpreted.

You may still ask me, “But, what about evolution? How do you account for that?” Well, let me counter with a question. What about it evolution is incoherent or inconsistent with God or the need for religion? The Bible (which is God’s words) claims that God created the heavens and the earth and man, and created man in his own image. It does not say that man looked a certain way; it does not say that man was always the same. Just because at some point humans may have been less intelligent and more animal like in are actions does not mean that we did not have souls—that we could not choose right and wrong—or that we were not stewards of the earth meant to inherit it.

This last weekend during the Liturgy the answer to your very important question dawned on me. “Vanity of vanities!” A great passage from the book of Ecclesiastes was read. I highly recommend reading this book over and over. The passage reads,

“Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,and yet to another who has not labored over it,he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune. For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heartwith which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23)

I have frequented this book many times in my studies. It also seems to speak straight to my mind and heart. But, thanks to the brilliant priest and his meaningful homilies more light was shed upon this passage for me. He exclaimed that even the most generous, toilsome, selfless good works are vanity. Everything on earth, everything we do, no matter the meaning we think we are assigning to our lives, it is all vanity! It is all passing. This earth is passing away. Everything we create—great thoughts, monuments, legacies—it will all pass away. Therefore, it is all meaningless.

There is only one way any of this world has meaning. And that is, if it is for the love of God. Because, God is Being. God will always exist. If we do it out of our love for God, putting each action into His hands, for his purpose, then by definition God will give it being, meaning and eternal life. Giving ourselves and what we do over to God gives us all eternal life.
So, if all of this, earth, man, evolution is not for God, if there is not a God, then why. Why do we do anything, if is it all to pass away?

Maybe all of this does not answer your question. At least I have started a reading list for you. I think Journey from the Mind to God, St. Bonaventure, would be a good read on this subject: also, Aquinas Five Ways of God argument (pretty meaty, lots of mental arm flexing), Summa. Prima Pars. Questions 2-12.

As for my faith, it is unshaken. I feel more self-deceived being caught up in daily menal chores than I have ever felt in a day of prayer. If you have ever read the “Meaning of life” quote hidden in Spokane, Washington (which I will not publish, because you have to go read it yourself), then you know what I mean. We all have to live this life and we all have our duties, but it’s those of us who know the “meaning of life,” we, perhaps, can gain a little higher existence, no matter what we endure.

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