Friday, July 26, 2013

Against the Atheistic Notion of Faith

I was not always a person of faith, as I have noted in some of my past writings.  In fact, it seemed that the only “religious faith” I used to have was that my quasi-mighty Portland Trailblazers were going to win the NBA championship each and every new season that started.  Talk about misplaced faith!  In fact, being the arrogant snot that I was, I tried to “prove” that God didn’t exist while still in my late teens and early twenties; something which now seems as utterly preposterous as it was arrogant.  Needless to say, I have thankfully matured (some) intellectually, emotionally, and definitely spiritually over the years since.

All of that said, I have run into and debated more than a few atheists in recent years, long after my conversion to faith in God and Catholicism.  Sadly some of those atheists are members within my own extended family.  One of the reoccurring memes that keeps arising from many of my atheistic debating friends, either implicitly or explicitly, is this twisted notion of what they think faith is.

Many atheists and agnostics today seem to be of a similar mindset that faith is nothing more than an appeal to superstition.  To them, it is a naivety that is born of ignorance or a disdain of science.  And while it is accurate to say that certain religious faiths could indeed be construed in such a way, the cardinal theological virtue of faith as taught by the Catholic Church is nothing of the sort.  (The other two of the three cardinal theological virtues are hope and love, in case you cared.)

What faith truly means in the context of that theology is not some archaic medieval reliance on God as an all-encompassing explanation because we don’t understand the esoteric realities of the physical world.  True faith is not irrational or sub-rational.  It certainly does not lie below the threshold of reason.  Indeed the virtue of faith is a surrender on the far side of reason.  It is informed in its foundation, and as such it is merely a “leap beyond the place currently illumined by philosophy and science,” as Father Barron has so eloquently said.  Further paraphrasing him, this created war between faith and  reason is a matter born of a misunderstanding of what faith truly is by an ever-growing secular society.

Most atheists seem to think that faith is the antonym of reason.  It is contrary to science in their estimation.  The irony of that mindset is not lost on those who truly do understand the virtue of faith.  Indeed it was belief and faith that were often the catalysts for many brilliant scientists to want to discover the intricacies and explanations of our Devine Creator God and his universe.  It was men and women of faith, specifically in the Catholic mold, that were responsible for the creation of many of the modern sciences and even the university system via the Catholic Church. 

The list of luminaries in the history of the sciences often show people of true faith to be the very founders of certain branches of study or discoverers of new scientific theories.  Indeed, it is interesting to note how many fathers of the various sciences were actually Fathers (priests).  Father Gregor Mendel was the founder of genetic science.  Father Georges Lemaitre was the scientist that proposed the big bang theory.  Father Roger Joseph Boscovich was responsible for the precursors of atomic theory, as well as being a brilliant astronomer and polymath.  Father Roger Bacon is credited with being the father of the modern scientific method.  The list of Catholic scientists that understand and are practitioners of the theological virtue of faith is impressive, even into these modern times. 

So you see, faith is not an anti-science and anti-reason philosophy or mindset.  On the contrary, it is by that light of faith that we can see past the darkness on the path that science and philosophy has not yet illuminated the way for us yet in order to make ever greater discoveries and thereby further substantiate our faith in God and his creation.  True faith and reason are not only compatible, but as history has shown, are often a great catalyst in the furthering of science – in great spite of all atheistic claims to the contrary.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

An American Experiment in Liberty

One hundred and fifty years ago yesterday, the Battle of Gettysburg was concluded during the American Civil War in what was the bloodiest battle in the history of our nation.  That battle – that war – was fought to right the wrongs of a nation that was ostensibly conceived in liberty.  It was fought to free men and women from the vile and retched shackles of slavery.
America was still a nation in its infancy at the time of the Civil War; not even one hundred years old yet.  That war came remarkably close to destroying our American nation, and the Battle of Gettysburg was arguably the turning point of that bloodiest of all American wars.  Up until that point, the Confederacy had won many major battles, and General Robert E. Lee had  hoped to push his campaign into the north with his Army of Virginia in order to break the back and spirit of Lincoln and the union army. 
While many historians give General Lee’s Corp Commander, General James Longstreet, the blame for the South’s defeat at Gettysburg, it is mine and many other’s opinion that had Lee retreated to better ground and not attacked the north in its fortified positions, they might very well have gone on to win the war.  Instead the stars and stripes carried those three days of battle on July 1st to July 3rd in 1863.  It was the turning point of the war and our nation was ultimately saved accordingly. 
Throughout the history of nations, America was a wholly different kind of proposition.  It was exceptional as a nation even from the first days of its very founding.  It was precisely exceptional because of three main principles.   
The first principle, as stated in our founding document as a nation in The Declaration of Independence, stated that “ALL men are created equal”.  One’s status was not determined by who one’s father or family heritage was, but rather by one’s own ambitions.  There was no hereditary status or class distinction of locked castes in American society.  A person was judged on his own merits alone.  Now there were indeed two atavistic contradictions to this ideal: slavery and the position of women.  These intolerable contradictions were eventually resolved though, the former through our horrible Civil War. 
The second principle was that in all other nations at that time, citizenship was a matter established by blood, lineage, or one’s birth.  Foreigners to those other nations could never be admitted as full members of their societies.  America though was different.  To become an American one only needed to pledge allegiance to our free republic and the principles of liberty enshrined in its founding.  Indeed, our Statue of Liberty sits as a beacon to the tired, poor and wretched refuse of other nations to come to America and reach for the highest of their stars, restricted only by their own abilities and ambitions.
Lastly, in other nations of the day, one’s rights (if any) were always conferred by human agencies.  It was within a monarch’s or sometimes a parliament’s power to bestow privileges and rights upon its citizens as they saw fit.  As such, these man-given rights could also be revoked.  In America, again as stated in our Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal and endowed by God with unalienable rights.  As such, man was incapable of revoking these rights that we had acknowledged as being intrinsically bestowed by our Creator. 
A nation so conceived was a great threat to the monarchies of Europe.  The idea of self-rule via representatives of government being guided via the consent of the governed, by We The People, was an anathema to those other nations and their hold on power.
And yet, against all odds and indeed seemingly by Divine Providence, America overcame the greatest army and navy in its day and defeated the mighty British empire and King George III.  In doing so, we moved forward and the liberties God had given us and the fruits of our labors we achieved by our own talents, ambitions, and sweat of our brows brought this nation of rugged individualists to become the greatest force for economic, military, and libertine power that the world has ever seen before or since.
Those freedoms, whose job it is for government to protect only, ensured that today, a nation that makes up 4.5% of the world’s population is responsible for 22% of the world’s output.  Indeed, history changing inventions from medicine and pharmaceuticals, to phones and communication, to air and space flight have literally transformed life upon this planet all because of Americans.
And now, today in 2013, those God-given freedoms and rights as enshrined in our glorious United States Constitution, are under attack.  This attack doesn’t come from some foreign foe.  No, those waning liberties are being infringed upon from within the confines of our own governmental structures and institutions.  No longer today do we seek to exercise our freedoms in pursuit of our own happiness.  Instead we look to government to provide for us and care for us, even at the expense of our own God-given liberties, indeed even by the right to worship God as we choose. 
In July of 1863 the very fabric of our nation was being torn asunder and our experiment in self-government’s very existence likely hinged on the fateful decisions of a few generals on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 
Today our very existence as the land of the free and the home of the brave hinge upon our remembering our nation’s history, it’s principles, and the source of our liberty; not only remembering but insisting that we will fight to keep those rights.  If we as a people decide to let our government dictate to us how we are to be governed instead of telling them how they will govern us, then we will have done what no outside enemy ever could.  We will have destroyed the United States of America. 
I, for one, am immensely proud of my nation, its founders, and those principles upon which it was founded.  I fully intend, just as the founders did, to pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor to do everything of which I am capable to ensure this nation does not perish from this earth.  Happy Independence Day, my friends! 

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
~ Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, and Commander in Chief of the Union Army during the American Civil War