In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, I’ve begun reading John O’Malley’s magisterial history, What Happened at Vatican II. It’s a fascinating chronicle of the great theological earthquake that shook the Church to its foundations, throwing open doors to let fresh air into dusty mausoleums but also, at the same time, knocking down priceless works of art that had taken centuries to create.
Like most ordinary Catholics over the age of fifty, I lived through it all on the street level, up close and personal: the myriad changes to the Mass… the nuns casting off their dignified old habits and dressing like school marms… the questioning of virtually everything… the rediscovery of the Church’s mission to the poor and re-commitment to peace… the counter-reformation… the culture wars… all the battles over contraception and divorce and abortion.
I can honestly say that it was a wonderful time to live through. My generation had a taste of the old and lived through the rebuilding of the new. We started out in Catholic parochial school saying the Mass prayers in Latin and ended it saying them in Swahili (Kumbaya, My Lord, Kumbaya!).
With the exception of the unexpected catastrophe of the sexual abuse crisis, all of these upheavals have created, I believe, a Catholic Church that is now stronger, more intellectually coherent, more faithful to the Gospel and more capable of enduring the 21st century than what existed before.
Of course, we were all just getting back on our feet again in the 1980s and ‘90s, with a new confidence and energy, when the sexual abuse crisis hit like a cancer diagnosis. Like cancer, it is life-threatening, terrifying and will leave us weaker than we would have been otherwise… but ultimately, with luck and a lot of chemo, we will survive even this. (Or maybe not. You never know with cancer!)
At first, I was on the side of the crazy liberals in the Church. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I thought like liberals did and liked everything new and radical and distrusted anything that smacked of the “old” Church. The Jesuits in my Catholic high school were stuffing us all full of liberal theology (watered down, of course) from the likes of Karl Rahner, Bernard Haring and Hans Küng. We played guitar at the high school midnight Mass on Saturdays, hearing tales of the Berrigan brothers and Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker (still heroes of mine). Everything was experimental, a work in progress. My high school religion teacher practiced Transcendental Meditation and was into the Charismatic Renewal, even speaking in tongues. I remember being greatly affected by the writing of a (now ex-) priest, Anthony Padavano, and by the strange Jesuit mystic and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
But by the time many of us got to college, in the mid-1970s, we were already becoming a little skeptical of the whole “scorched earth” liberal agenda. Many of us began to notice some of the destruction the post-conciliar wrecking ball had left in its wake. We would walk by (metaphorically speaking) the ruins of old cathedrals and see discarded statutes by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello lying face down in the dirt – and would ask, Gee, did we have to throw these away, too?
The truth is, Vatican II was a little like the French Revolution – freeing prisoners in the Bastille but also setting up a guillotine in every square. When things settled down in the 1980s, my generation began to question the questioners, to assess what was gained and what was lost in the revolution. We read books by the Catholic counter-revolutionaries, such as James Hitchcock’s The Rise and Fall of Radical Catholicism, Garry Wills’ Bare Ruined Choirs and Anne Roche Muggeridge’s The Desolate City. Some of my friends became more critical of the post-conciliar Church and more open to at least listening to what traditional Catholicism had to say. Around that time, in the late 1970s, I penned a series of articles about what was lost in what we called then the New Mass, even daring to suggest that the Jesuit liturgies in the “liturgical center” were so informal and irreverent they seemed more like a cocktail party than an act of worship.
Yet, most people I knew could never bring themselves to join the conservative wing of the Church – represented by, say, The Wanderer newspaper or Catholics United for the Faith (CUF). Intellectually, we remained unregenerate “liberals” on basic principles: We instinctively knew that fundamentalism of any sort (either Biblical or theological) was untenable and that science and historical scholarship would strengthen, not weaken, Christian faith. But we were becoming, I suppose, aesthetic conservatives, people who found the modern efforts at liturgy and church architecture to be decidedly inferior to what was found in the past. I guess this made us Anglicans, people with radical theology but a preference for tradition and good taste.
When John Paul II arrived on the scene, however, all that changed. He was and remains the greatest hero of my generation of Catholics. We were lucky to live during an age of living saints, John Paul the Great and Mother Teresa. JP II represented everything my friends and I thought the Church should be – intellectually daring, open to new ideas, fluent in many languages, willing to talk to and even pray with representatives of all the major religions, yet mindful of Church tradition and a guardian of the deposit of Faith passed on for millennia.
Nutty liberals attacked John Paul as an “arch-conservative,” because he wouldn’t change ancient Church teaching on women priests, homosexuality and abortion, but in fact John Paul was the closest thing to a centrist the Church has ever seen. As I was writing for Catholic magazines and raising a family, I was definitely a “John Paul II Catholic” – which meant I was fully supportive of Vatican II and opposed efforts to return to a “1950s Catholicism” or a Latin Mass traditionalism (although I sometimes went to Tridentine liturgies to see what they were like).
Like many people in those years, my friends and I were all enthralled by the “new movements” in European Catholicism, groups like Comunione e Liberazione, precisely because they seemed to chart a middle course between the dour fundamentalism of conservatives (represented by The Wanderer) and the “anything goes” liberalism of left-wing “cafeteria” Catholics (represented by the National Catholic Reporter). We were also greatly influenced by Catholic neo-conservatives (neo-conservative not in a political but religious sense) such as Michael Novak, George Weigel and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and their journals, Crisis and First Things.
That still represents more or less where I situate myself today: pretty much smack dab in the middle theologically and politically. I am a thorough “liberal” when it comes to Biblical studies and scientific issues like evolution and cosmology; yet I remain “conservative” in that I don’t think the Church can or should change its moral teachings on divorce, homosexuality or abortion. The older I get, the more I prefer Gregorian Chant to rock guitar music; yet I remain as opposed to a fundamentalist perspective on the Bible and Church teaching as ever.
I suppose the main way my friends and I are different today than when we were younger is that we are a little more battered by life and therefore less righteous, a little more aware of the price paid for tradition — and not by us! In this, we are like a lot of older priests I know. They are world weary, a bit exhausted, but do their best to be kind. For example, while I don’t think the Church should change its teaching on the indissolubility of authentic sacramental marriages – Jesus’s “exception” was not for “adultery” as most English translations have it but for porneia, meaning informal common law marriages or people “shacking up” – I have friends and family members, not to mention my own parents, who are divorced. As a result, we have to find ways to help divorced people live within the arms of the Church with dignity and grace. The same thing is true for gay people. I’m not sure how we do that – and I remain opposed to gay marriage – but do it we must.
In the end, I am grateful for the creative whirlwind that was the Second Vatican Council, despite some of the wreckage that came in its wake… and grateful for the millions of faithful Catholics who cheerfully live with its contradictions and internal tensions to this day. We’re all just muddling through, doing our best to separate the wheat from the chaff, trying to discern what is an authentic development of doctrine and what is a dead-end. Bishops and theologians argue about these matters, but we laity vote with our feet. It’s been a wild ride these past fifty years and I can’t wait to see what the next fifty years brings.
Like most postmodern Catholics of a certain age, I hate going to Confession – really and truly dislike it. It’s worse than going to the dentist or the gastroenterologist. Like the gastroenterologist or dentist, confession is inherently embarrassing. It probes for decay and disease and often finds it. It’s uncomfortable. It can be painful.
Priests today, like modern dentists, do everything they can to make you feel at ease. They offer analgesics. They try to be as non-threatening and encouraging as possible. Some even offer the equivalent of nitrous oxide. I was told recently that when the actor Mickey Rourke goes to confession, he and his priest drink wine and smoke cigars. That is the way it should be. But as much as he might sugar coat it, a good confessor is still poking around deep down in your soul, scraping here, probing there, noting the presence of unusual growths that should probably be cut out. Many times, it’s just routine. A quick in and out. Like a quarterly teeth cleaning. No big deal. But every once and a while, it becomes a disgusting, uncomfortable process, involving blood and pus.
For people today, it’s particularly uncomfortable because we have been led to believe, since we were young, that we’re all “okay.” I’m okay, you’re okay. It’s all good! As I’ve said before, the only Immaculate Conception we children of the Sixties believe in is our own. There are no more sins, only neuroses. The only sexual sin is failure to orgasm. But it hasn’t always been so. As late as my own childhood, confession was once quite popular. The lines for confession often extended out of churches into the street. Perhaps people in an earlier time accepted their own sinfulness as a matter of course and embraced the relief that comes with confession. It’s been said that confession is a kind of Catholic yoga, free psychotherapy for the masses – and people in previous eras took advantage of it. In earlier times, people accepted both the reality of sin (violent, real, soul-withering sin) and the fact that they are inherently flawed, given to taking short cuts, repeat offenders in every sense of the word.
For about a century now, we’ve been telling ourselves that such a worldview is too pessimistic, even vaguely neurotic, and so have cultivated an image of ourselves as merely earnest strivers out to better the world. Perhaps some of this was necessary… because there is a heterodox strain of Calvinistic dualism in U.S. Catholicism. It may have come from Jansenism or from our Puritan neighbors but it’s there. Yet, like many correctives, this attempt to remove shame from our lives has gone too far. We now are literally shameless. Activities and attitudes that once required penance are now entertainment, celebrated on reality TV shows. Why go to confession when the activities you need to confess can, if broadcast to millions, make you rich? Don’t we all want to cheat our best friends out of fortunes and, like Mark Zuckerberg, found Internet empires? Don’t we all want to “hook up” with really “hot” guys and/or gals? Isn’t fame – bragging about our own wonderfulness — the path to wealth and happiness?
Catholics have a duty to go to confession at least once a year. It’s called the Easter Duty. Most ignore it. My friends in Opus Dei , which has as one of its “missions” the revival of confession among Catholics, like to say most Catholics haven’t been to confession since high school. I know that’s probably true. The only reason I go to confession as often as I do, which isn’t all that often, is because I occasionally attend an Opus Dei “evening of recollection” at a local high school. I’m not a member of Opus Dei but have a few friends who are… and I admire a lot about them. Unfortunately, some Opus Dei priests can be creepy, traditionalists in a bad sense. Our local parish priests are a lot better confessors because they function in the real world of single moms and scheming corporate lawyers. (The last time I went to Confession, right before Easter, I had the priest snorting in mild derision at my pathetic sins.)
Now, my evangelical in-laws, in occasional outbursts of anti-Catholicism after a few glasses of wine, will complain that they “don’t need some Catholic priest” to forgive their sins, that they can go “directly to God.” Of course, that’s true enough. That’s true even in Catholic theology… although I won’t bore you with the details and talk about mortal versus venial sins and acts of perfect contrition and all that. I also won’t bore you with the historical and scriptural evidence for sacramental confession. But saying you don’t need a Catholic priest to forgive your sins is a lot like saying you don’t need your dentist to clean your teeth or your gastroenterologist to clean your bowels: good luck with that! We go to confession for the same reason we go to the dentist: precisely because we don’t clean our teeth regularly or floss sufficiently and precisely because we don’t examine our conscience regularly and ask God for forgiveness. No, you don’t “have to” go see your gastroenterologist. You can take your chances. You can skip that checkup at age 50. After all, who wants to get a colonoscopy? But every once in a while, one of those intestinal polyps can get a little dicey and, if left unattended, can gradually grow into a nasty tumor that will kill you. So, no, you don’t “have” to go to Confession. But it’s a good idea.
One last thing. Like many healthy practices, like hot yoga, you can get used to Confession. It takes a while, but you can even get to like it eventually once you’re in the habit. Here’s why. There is something inherently powerful about someone listening to the deepest, darkest secrets of your soul – or at least to the deepest, darkest secrets you can bring yourself to talk about – and then saying that, by the power and authority invested in him by God Almighty, your sins are forgiven, truly and really forgiven. It can be truly transformative. That’s because many people, deep down, harbor a profound sense of shame despite all the best propaganda of our culture that there is no such thing as sin. When that sense of shame is brought into the open, like a bowel obstruction, and cut out, there is a real sense of relief and even of well being. You feel a lot better. If sin ages you, as it does, the forgiveness of sin is God’s anti-aging medicine, his way of keeping you young.
The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Great Britain on September 16-19. “Accepting the invitation of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, and of the bishops’ conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland, His Holiness Benedict XVI will make an apostolic trip to the United Kingdom from 16 to 19 September,” the Pope’s spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said.
The theme chosen for the papal visit to England is “Heart Speaks Unto Heart,” Cardinal Newman’s motto.
According to Inside the Vatican magazine, following the pope’s arrival at Edinburgh airport on September 16, he will be driven to Holyrood Palace where he will be welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen. “He will then travel through the center of Edinburgh in the Popemobile, and the Scottish bishops are encouraging ‘as many people as possible’ to attend and line the Pope’s route and to attend the public Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.”
Given the official welcome by the Queen, it is doubtful that the British government will permit the threatened legal action against the pope planned by the UK’s infamous village atheists, the Oxford biologist and town crank Richard Dawkins and U.S.-based journalist Christopher Hitchens.
The two men have allegedly been scheming for months — with the help of two British lawyers, Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens — to have the Crown Prosecution Service arrest the pope for “crimes against humanity.”
Dawkins and Hitchens think that the can make a case against the pope for his alleged “cover-up” of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. They point to the arrest of Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998 as a example of taking action against foreign leaders.
Last year, Palestinian activists talked a British judge into issuing an arrest warrant for the Israeli politician Tzipi Livni during a visit to Britain.
“There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring,” said lawyer Stephens. “Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.”
It is doubtful that Hitchens, at least, will be on hand for the legal fireworks as he was recently diagnosed with cancer.
To say that the Bible is patriarchal is like saying that Tai Chi is Chinese: It is such a bewildering statement of the obvious that only an academic or reporter would think it a profound revelation.
Yet in the 1970s and ‘80s, literally millions of feminists opened the Bible (some for the first time, some for the millionth time) and were shocked — shocked! -- at what they found.
Not only was the Divinity addressed as “He” – as He had been, both in the original scriptural languages and in vernacular translations, for 2,000 years — but the entire book was riddled with masculine prerogatives and male-oriented language.
The people of Israel are routinely referred to as bnei Israel, literally the “sons of Israel.”
God creates the male human being (the adam) first.
Under the Mosaic Law, men can divorce women at will… but women cannot divorce men.
All of the Twelve Apostles are men. Jesus is a man. St. Paul, the first Christian theologian, is a man.
And on and on it goes: male chauvinism everywhere you turn.
In an era when radical feminists were trying on such linguistic novelties as referring to “seminars” as “ovulars,” the frank “patriarchy” of the Bible drove many feminists to distraction.
That is the only way to understand the phenomenon of Mary Daly, the ex-Catholic nun turned lesbian isolationist who banned all men from her classes at the Jesuit-run Boston College and, in such classics of feminist rage as Gyn/Ecology, Pure Lust and Outercourse, proclaimed that “a woman’s asking for equality in the church would be comparable to a black person’s demanding equality in the Ku Klux Klan.”
Of course, many feminists were content to remain within the broad confines of Christianity and Judaism and sought moderate corrections to what they saw as the sexism inherent in western religion — such as the creation of politically-correct “inclusive language” Bibles and so on.
Others, however, were driven to reject western religion altogether as irredeemably sexist — and sought, like Daly, to “discover” (actually create) a new religion known as “feminist spirituality.”
“The feminist movement in Western culture is engaged in the slow execution of Christ and Yahveh,” explained Naomi Goldenberg in her entertaining book, Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions “The psychology of the Jewish and Christian religions depends on the masculine image that these religions have of their God. Feminists change the major psychological impact of Judaism and Christianity when they recognize women as religious leaders and as images of divinity.”
Drawing upon the writings of neo-pagan writers such as “Starhawk” (née Miriam Simos), author of the fascinating chronicle The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, these new feminist theologians asserted that prehistoric peoples all worshipped variations on the Great Mother Goddess – sometimes in conjunction with the “horned god” who died and was resurrected each year.
For tens of thousands of years, they said, primitive societies were matriarchal, ecologically in balance, egalitarian, peaceful, civilized, in touch with their own sexuality and bodies. (Priestesses presided “skyclad” or naked, “embodying the fertility of the Goddess,” explained Starhawk – a far cry from the staid, less tantalizing services found in your average Methodist congregation or Reform synagogue.)
But into this matriarchal utopia disaster struck: Indo-European invaders swept across the European continent, their veins surging with testosterone, bringing with them weapons of killing, patriarchy and (male) hunter gods.
When Christianity arrived on the scene, full of the myriad repressions and patriarchal traditions of Judaism, the Old Religion of the Great Goddess was forced to go underground – in the form of the various goddess-worship Gnostic sects that the early church persecuted and which figured so prominently in The Da Vinci Code.
But the “Old Religion” lived on, secretly practiced by old women (crones) and “witches,” until the “Burning Times” arrived in the Middle Ages – when, according to Starhawk and Mary Daly, some 9 million witches were burned at the stake.
An entire generation of “gender feminists” — now in their 60s and ‘70s — accepted this new mythology hook, line and sinker.
There is only one problem with it: It has about as much basis in history as the volcano-dwelling Thetans of Scientology.
Virtually everything taught about the Great Goddess in “feminist spirituality” and Women’s Studies classes – from Berkeley to Boston — is a hoax.
In fact, wicca in general and feminist spirituality in particular were largely the creations of one man…
The New York Times had an interesting article on the lesbian Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet. She’s not interesting because she’s lesbian and Catholic (lots of those) but because she is lesbian, Catholic and opposes same-sex marriage.
Raised in a liberal household (her father a non-observant Jew, her mom a Unitarian), Tushnet went to Yale a conventional student liberal and left a committed Catholic intellectual with a decidedly conservative bent. She went to a meeting of the Yale underground club, The Party of the Right — to, as she puts it, “laugh at the zoo animals” — and was astonished to find the conservative kids to be intellectual, quite tolerant of her open lesbianism and very funny. Tushnet herself defies the stereotypes of faithful Catholics by embracing the ideology of joy:
She may befuddle others, but for her, life is joyful. She takes obvious pleasure in being an eccentric in a tradition with no shortage of odd heroes, visionaries and saints. “You can be really quite strange, and the Catholic church will canonize you eventually,” she says. She loves eating the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which she believes is a carnivorous meal, not a metaphor. She loves gay synth-pop bands.
“I really think the most important thing is, I really like being gay and I really like being Catholic,” she says. “If nobody ever calls me self-hating again, it will be too soon.
“Nothing is quite as great as getting up in the morning, listening to the Pet Shop Boys and going to church.”
In some ways, Tushnet resembles that other great gay Catholic convert, Oscar Wilde… whom she obviously emulates to some degree. If you want to see why she’s courageous for being a faithful Catholic while still acknowledging her lesbian nature, read the raging hate directed her way in the comments section of a typical gay website. (Gays are all for “tolerance” and against “hate crimes,” so long as the tolerance is reserved only for their own point of view: As these comments show, some are perfectly capable of justifying the most violent “hate speech” imaginable for anyone who dares to disagree. Here’s a typical example of what Tushnet faces from the oh-so-tolerant gay community. The writer is quoting Tushnet’s comments in the New York Times piece:
“A two-tiered marriage culture, where heterosexual couples are asked to do the hard things (sex only within marriage, marriage for life in most circumstances) and homosexual couples work out their own marriage norms” – What the SHIT is she even saying here? Her argument is that we want to get married so we can bastardize marriage BEECUZ DE GAYZ R ALL WHORES? Okay, bitch. Get your hand out of your pants and shove it down your throat.
“reshape marriage into an optional, individualized institution, ignoring the creative and destructive potentials of ‘straight’ sex” – Now she wants to ban gay sex. Yeah, good luck with that, cunt. It’s not like it’s been around since before your precious Christ.
“or encourage all couples to restrict sex to marriage and marry for life, and hope that gay couples accept norms designed to meet heterosexual needs” – This is gibberish. Nonsense. No amount of quality education in the world will help this creature because it is completely divorced from any understanding of anything on this earth.
Ugh, FUCK YOU. GAH.
I’ve been fascinated by Tibet my entire life — ever since I read, as an 11-year-old, Alexandra David-Neel’s classic Magic and Mystery in Tibet (a book I still own and reread). As a child, I scooped up every book on Tibet I could find in my local public library: Lowell Thomas, Jr.’s Out of This World to Forbidden Tibet… Heinrich Harrer’s classic Seven Years in Tibet... Thubten Norbu’s Tibet is My Country... and Lama Anagarika Govinda’s The Way of the White Clouds.
Of course, I am hardly unique in this fascination. The whole Lost Horizon’s fantasy obviously appeals to millions of westerners… that of a peaceful kingdom of meditating monks living in an isolated plateau in the faraway mountains. But I’ve maintained my interest in Tibet for more than 40 years… eventually discovering the works of Chogyam Trungpa and other westernized lamas. The peaceful Tibetans struck me as very similar to people in my own Catholic background. Both the Catholic Church and Tibetan Buddhism share many similar external traits — a central authority figure who serves for life (the pope, Dalai Lama)… large monasteries and converts… different religious “orders” (in the case of the Tibetans, the four principal “sects” such as the Kagyu, Sakya, etc.)… elaborate liturgical ceremonies involving vestments, incense and the like… a highly developed iconography… different mystical traditions that date back millennia… a wide variety of saints… and on and on. What’s more, both the Catholic Church and the Tibetans have been persecuted by murderous secular regimes hell-bent on destroying their culture and traditions. My heart has always gone out to the Tibetans… and still does. (My kids mock my taste in music as “weird Tibetan music” because I listen to the eerie, otherworldly music of such Tibetan artists as the beautiful Yungchen Lhamo.)
I’ve also long been fascinated by the story of Fr. Ippolito Desideri, S.J., a Jesuit missionary who established a mission in Lhasa in 1712-1727… mastered the Tibetan language… engaged in regular debates with Tibetan philosophical masters (geshe)… and did his best to describe and explain the strange mystical traditions of Tibetan Buddhism to the European Christian world. One of my Jesuit philosophy professors, in the 1970s, was coincidentally an expert in Tibetan in general and Fr. Desideri in particular: He went from classical Greek to Sanskrit (also an Indo-European language) to Tibetan.
All of this is a prelude to a story I saw today about a Catholic Church in Tibet — which I have never known existed. Wonders never cease. The article is from the Communist-controlled Xinhua news agency, which, like all things controlled by the Communist oppressors of Tibet, cannot be completely trusted. The Communists have murdered millions of Tibetans in cold blood since invading their country in the mid-1950s and have continued to practice a form of “ethnic cleansing” (such as importing Han Chinese to run all of the central organizations in Tibet) ever since. They have a vested interest in portraying the Chinese-dominated “Tibetan Autonomous Region” as a model of religious tolerance and forbearance… when, in fact, the Chinese have done everything in their power to stamp out Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese allow one tiny Catholic chapel to exist in Tibet, subject to rigid oversight… just not Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
LHASA, May 31 (Xinhua) — Every daybreak on the southeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Lucy walks into the only Catholic Church in Tibet, dips her fingers into the holy water and makes the sign of the cross before praying.
Rain, hail or shine, the 62-year-old has attended masses and sermons since she was baptized as a child. The priest who baptized her gave her the Western name.
But Lucy is at home among Tibetans, who swing prayer wheels and prostrate themselves in front of Buddhas.
Unlike Catholics elsewhere, Lucy reads the Bible in Tibetan and presents hada, long pieces of silk used as greeting gifts among Tibetans, to the Virgin Mary.
The church she visits every day is perched on a hill in the valley west of the Jinsha River. It is in the village of Yanjing, also known as “Yerkalo”, and is adorned with gesang flowers in its court, where white hada frame the religious artworks.
Built by French missionary Felix Biet in 1865, the whitewashed structure has two crosses on its outer walls while its interior is adorned with Gothic arches and frescos on the ceiling.
Father Felix was born in 1838 and ordained a priest in January 1864. He arrived in Tibet two months later. He was also ordained a bishop and died in 1901.
After the church was built, clashes between its followers and those of a nearby lamasery were common. The clashes reached a peak in the 1940s when armed lamas took over the church. The church was not returned to Catholic hand until 1951 after many local Catholics had asked the local authorities, the Qamdo People’s Liberation Committee, to return it to them.
The church became an elementary and middle school during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In the late 1980s, the church was renovated at a cost of 102,000 yuan (about 14,934 U.S. dollars), 95,000 yuan of which came from the government.
Tibetan priest Father Laurent says the Upper Yanjing Village has a population of less than 1,000, and that the church, with more than 500 parishioners, has enriched the local culture and coexists with Tibetan monasteries.
“Many villagers bring their babies to be baptized, and the baptism is performed over eight consecutive days. The babies will receive religious names like Paul and Anne. The names will be with them for their whole lives, and when they die, they will be buried,” he says.
But wedding ceremonies do not take place in the church, Father Laurent says, the priest will instead go to the couple’s home and pray for them.
Maria takes charge of cleaning and daily necessities. But her husband Zhaxi Wangdui is a fervent Tibetan Buddhist.
Maria says they are both pious and respect each other’s beliefs – “We still share the same culture and lifestyle after all.”
When the Tibetan New Year falls, normally in March, Maria joins her husband and the village folk to celebrate.
“After all these years of coexistence, couples who belong to different religions in the village can stick to their own faiths when they marry and their children can choose their own religion once they grow up.”
At Christmas, Father Laurent says Catholics from neighboring provinces come while Buddhists from nearby lamaseries are invited over.
“Religious conflicts between the Catholics and Buddhists are a thing of the past,” says Father Laurent.
It’s an amazing story, one only now being told. More than 1,300 years ago, a Persian Christian monk named Aleben traveled 3,000 miles along the ancient caravan route known as the Silk Road all the way to China, carrying precious copies of the New Testament writings (probably in Syriac). Aleben and his fellow Christian monks stopped in the Chinese city of Chang-au (Xian), where, under the protection of the Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong, he founded a CHristian monastery and began the arduous task of translating the Christian texts into Chinese. It was the year A.D. 635. When the Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived in China nearly 600 years later, he was astonished to discover that a tiny Christian community had existed there for centuries.
We know about this amazing Christian evangelist and his genial Chinese hosts because in 1623 graver diggers working outside of Xian dug up a stele weighing two tons and carved with 2,000 Chinese characters. Now known as the Monument Stele and residing in a museum in Xian, It was created in A.D. 781 and tells the tale Aleben and what the Chinese writers called “the Luminous Religion” because it taught of light. Here is what the Stele proclaimed:
The Emperor Taizong was a champion of culture. He created prosperity and encouraged illustrious sages to bestow their wisdom on the people. There was a saint of great virtue named Aleben, who came from the Qin Empire carrying the true scriptures. He had read the azure clouds and divined that he should journey to the East. Along the way, Aleben avoided danger and calamity by observing the rhythm of the wind.
In the ninth year of the Zhenguan reign [A.D. 635], Aleben reaching Chang-an [Zian]. The Emperor sent his minister, Duke Xuanling, together with a contingent of the palace guard, to the western outskirts to accompany Aleben to the palace.
The translation work on his scriptures took place in the Imperial Library and the Emperor studied them in his Private Chambers. After the Emperor became familiar with the True Teachings, he issued a decree and ordered that it be propagated…
… the Emperor issued a proclamation, saying:
“We have studied these scriptures and found them otherworldly, profound and full of mystery.
We found their words lucid and direct.
We have contemplated the birth and growth of the tradition from which these teachings sprang.
These teachings will save all creatures and benefit mankind, and it is on ly proper that they be practiced throughout the world.”
Following the Emperor’s orders, the Greater Qin Monastery was built in the I-ning section of the Capital. Twenty-one ordained monks of the Luminous Religion were allowed to live there…
The Emperor Gaozong [A.D. 650-683] reverently continued the tradition of his ancestor and enhanced the Luminous Religion by building temples in every province. He bestowed honors upon Aleben, declarin ghim the Great Dharma Lord of the Empire. The Luminous Religion spread throughout all ten provinces, the Empire prospered and peace prevailed. Temples were built in 100 cities and countless families received the blessings of the Luminous Religion.
Christianity flourished in China for at least two hundred years. But then, around A.D. 850, Chinese leaders began a purge of foreign religions, including Buddhism. Buddhist temples were destroyed and, according to one source, more than 3,000 monks of the “Luminious Religion” were ordered to return to lay life.
For more than 1,300 years, scholars and missionaries have searched for the lost scriptures that Aleben translated into Chinese — and for his monastery. A breakthrough finally occurred in the late 1880s when a lonely Taoist monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered 50,000 lost Chinese manuscripts hidden away in more than 500 caves in Dunhuang. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until about a decade ago, in 1998, that the full story was told. The Dunhuang manuscripts are sort of the Dead Sea Scrolls of ancient China, a cache of long-buried treasures that reveal a tremendous amount about life in ancient China — including the strange story of how the “Luminous Religion” took root there and blended with Taoist and Confucian elements to create a uniquely Chinese form of Christianity. The discovery of these ancient Chinese texts by western scholars — and their dissemination to museums in France and Britain — along with the many decades it took to get them translated and published — very much resembles the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Of the 50,000 manuscripts discovered at Dunhuang, only eight comprise what are now known as the Jesus Sutras. Nevertheless, they clearly show Christian influence. They paraphrase passages from the New Testament and thus provide direct evidence that the ancient Chinese writers of these texts clearly knew the Gospel accounts:
“Do not pile up treasures on the ground where they will rot or be stolen. Treasures must be stored in Heaven where they will not decay or rot.”
“Always tell the truth. Do not give pearls to swine; they will trample and destroy them. You will only be blamed by them for your actions and incur their anger. Why don’t you realize this yourself.”
“Knock on the door and it will be opened for you. Whatever you seek, you will obtain from the One Spirit. Know on the door and it will be opened for you.”
“Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest, they have no barns or cellars. In the wilderness the One Spirit provided for the people and will also provide for you. You are more important than the birds and should not worry.”
The Jesus Sutra texts clearly are attempting to translate Christian ideas and ideals into an idiom that the Chinese people — steeped in Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian concepts — can understand. Thus, the Jesus Sutras speak of the “Higher Dharma” that leads to Peace and Joy. “It is the Sutras of the Luminous Religion that enable us to cross the sea of birth and death to the other shore, a land fragrant with the treasured aroma of Peace and Joy,” the Sutras proclaim. “The Sutras are like a great fire burning upon a high mountain. The light from that fire shines upon all.”
Here is how the Jesus Sutras relate the story of Jesus:
The Lord of Heaven sent the Cool Wind to a girl named Mo Yen. It entered her womb and at the moment she conceived. The Lord of Heaven did this to show that conception could take place without a husband. He knew there was no man near her and that people who saw it would say, “How great is the power of the Lord of Heaven.”…
… Mo Yen became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Jesus, whose father is the Cool Wind.
… When Jesus Messiah was born, the world saw clear signs in heaven and earth. A new star that could be seen everywhere appeared in heaven above. The star was as big as a cart wheel and shown brightly. At about that time, the One was born in the country of Ephrath in the city of Jerusalem. He was born the Messiah and after five years he began to preach the dharma.
… From the time the Messiah was 12 until he was 32 years old, he sought out people with bad karma and directed them to turn around and create good karma by following a wholesome path. After the Messiah had gathered 12 disciples, he concerned himself with the suffering of others. Those who had died were made to live. The blind were made to see. The deformed were healed and the sick were cured.
… For the sake of all living beings and to show us that a human life is as frail as a candle flame, the Messiah gave his body to these people of unwholesome karma. For the sake of the living in this world, he gave up his life.
… After the Messiah had accepted death, his enemies seized the Messiah and took him to a secluded spot, washed his hair and climbed to “the place of skulls,” which was called golgotha. They bound him to a pole and placed two highway robbers to the right and left of him. They bound the Messiah to the pole at the time of the fifth watch of the sixth day of fasting. They bound him at dawn and when the sun set in the west the sky became black in all four directions, the earth quaked and the hills trembled. tombs all over the world opened and the dead came to life. What person can see such a thing and not have faith in the teaching of the scriptures? To give one’s life like the Messiah is a mark of great faith.
Fascinating stuff, no? To see this early form of Christianity — delivered by means of a Nestorian monk in the 6th century — through the eyes of the poetic, Taoist-influenced Chinese translators and scribes is to go back in time. It is yet another reminder of the universality of the Gospel message, how it transcends all culture and language and philosophical concepts. Christian yogis, above all, who seek wisdom from the East as well as from our own traditions, should appreciate this.
As the Apostle Peter tells the righteous Roman centurian Cornelius, following his vision: “I see clearly now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10: 34-5).” We Christians who seek wisdom from the East.
If you’re interested in this topic, you can discover more in The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks, edited by Ray Riegert and Thomas Moore (Berkeley: Seastone, 2003). A much more scholarly work, and without the frequently anti-Christian tone of Riegert and Moore, is Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (Wellspring/Ballantine, 2001).
According to rabbinic tradition, the first commandment God gives Adam and Eve in the Garden is to have sex: Pru vehravu, “be fruitful and multiply.”
It’s little wonder, then, that Christian theology has pondered for centuries the place that human sexuality and bodily existence have in God’s plan for the universe.
On the one hand, anyone familiar with the Jewish testament knows that sexual attraction (and sexual sin) permeate virtually every book. What’s more, two centuries of crusading secularism has exaggerated Christian pruddery in the early centuries of Christianity and in the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, it’s also true that the monastic movement that led to so many cultural and educational achievements in the West did tend to emphasize the negative aspects of human sexuality and bodily existence — if only because vowed celibate monks and nuns inevitably saw sexual feelings as temptations to be avoided at all costs.
Into this tangled history stepped the late pope John Paul II.
Raised by his widowed father in Poland during the nightmare of World War II, Karol Wotylwa was a working man, athlete and actor before he became a Catholic priest and a philosopher.
His experience with young married couples during his early years as a pastor — combined with his in-depth study of early 20th century phenomenologists — allowed the young priest to see the sexual embrace and life in the body in an entirely new way: as quite literally a way to God.
When he was elected pope, John Paul delivered a remarkable series of 129 lectures during his Wednesday audiences on what has become known as the Theology of the Body (TOTB) — a very traditional, very radical teaching on human embodiment and sexual attraction that papal biographer George Weigel has described as “a kind of theological time bomb” that will have dramatic consequences …perhaps in the twenty-first century” (Witness to Hope, 343).
John Paul’s argument, in essence, is that both secular libertines and Christian pruddery have missed the point. Human beings are radically, essentially physical. Human beings are not “ghosts in a machine,” as Descartes described it.
In a dramatic way, the entire Christian understanding of the incarnation means that Christians are and must be “pro-sex” and must celebrate the body generally. I would even say that Christians take the body at least as seriously as the devotees of most religions, including even Hinduism. The doctrine of the bodily resurrection reflects the Christian belief that we are our bodies — that if we are to survive death then it must be a physical survival. A disembodied spirit would not be a human being.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna the exact opposite of the Christian view of our essentially bodily natures:
As a man discards his threadbare robes and puts on new, so the Spirit throws off its worn-out bodies and puts on new ones… The Spirit in man is imperishable.
While Christianity agrees with the Gita (and with yoga!) that there is an imperishable, immortal essence of the human being, which, for lack of a better word, the west has traditionally called the “soul,” it does not agree that the physical body is merely incidental to that essence — something that can be “thrown off” for a new one.
Rather, in the Christian view, we are embodied spirits or spiritual bodies – and thus it is our bodies themselves that are (or will be) immortal. Thus, the Christian hope is even more absurdly optimistic than people give us credit for: We actually believe that we will live forever… in glorified “resurrection” bodies, not as disembodied spirits. I’ve never been the least scandalized by Taoists who claim that yoga can lead to physical immortality of a sort or at least extreme longevity: it seems perfectly plausible to me given the Christian revelation.
That is why St. Paul tells the (male) Corinthians that they should take good care of their bodies and not defile themselves with prostitutes — and why Christian practitioners of yoga celebrate the body and do what they can to maintain good health. That is also why Pope John Paul II, in his teachings on the Theology of the Body, emphasized how incarnate human beings come to God in and through their bodies — and that sex, far from being inherently sinful, is actually a way to God.
In John Paul’s teaching, sex (for non-celibate “householders”) is a sacrament (a “sign”) of divine presence because it is the preeminent example of that spiritual intimacy that is the birthright of all human beings.
The break-up of Al and Tipper Gore’s 40-year marriage is sparking a soul-searching among many long-time married couples. The Wall Street Journal today had an interesting article about the shifting marriage patterns among couples who have been married 30, 40 years or more. It turns out the Gores are typical of the baby boom generation:
Whatever the Gores’ issues—he’s 62, she’s 61—they are part of a new normal that began with their generation, according to Census statistics. Of the 8.1 million women who were married between 1970 and 1974, just over half made it to their 30th wedding anniversary, compared with about 60% for women married between 1960 and 1964.
That is likely the biggest generational jump in divorce rates ever seen, says Pamela Smock, a research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. From more women in the work force to the gradual acceptance of unmarried couples living together, the Gores’ generation “saw a sea change in how people thought about what they were supposed to do with their lives, including their family lives,” she says.
My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last year. I don’t think we were too smug about it, though. More like combat veterans sitting around after a battle, happy to be alive but a bit dazed and exhausted. With five wild kids and our own business, we’re just glad to be in one piece. Plus, we’ve seen our share of divorces in our circle of friends. The Gores’ breakup, like the divorces of of friends, both unnerve us and make us more determined.
The Wall Street Journal article argues that greater longevity dooms marriage. “People are living longer, and they’re less willing to spend their last decades with someone who leaves them unfulfilled,” the author writes. “The anthropologist Margaret Mead believed marriage was designed for a time when people died in their 40s and 50s, after raising children together. The concept of decades-long, empty-nest marriages was never considered.”
Perhaps. But the article also had hope for those of us committed to seeing marriage through til death do us part. The second half of marriage, now that the kids are semi-launched, can be a time of re-focusing on the relationship that set the family yacht sailing the seven seas in the first place. It’s a time when the husband and wife tell the kids, “See ya! We’re off to Tahiti!” Well, if not Tahiti, at least down the street.
My wife and I now run every morning on the beach near our home. It’s partly for our health, of course — we’re committed Younger Next Year folks — but it’s also a time when we can reconnect. We often sit on the beach before we start running, quietly listening to the waves, sipping coffee, reading the Wall Street Journal and just talking. It’s like daily marriage therapy. The kids have to fend for themselves for breakfast. At this point in our lives, we come first. Ha!
Like most combat veterans, my wife and I have seen too much to be flip about the next battle. We’re not overconfident… but not pessimistic, either. A stray bullet could take you out. But we’re determined and hopeful. Another day, another run together.
Former Time Magazine staffer and now contributor Jeff Israely (aided by news editor Howard Chua-Eoan) takes a predictable cheap shot at Pope Benedict XVI in a cover story this week (June 7, 2010). The cover headline is actually: “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” (Golly, I wonder where they’re going with this one?) The article is riddled with the usual embarrassing errors of fact we’ve come to expect from the dying lamestream media and is distinguished by an almost comical lack of actual reporting. (To be fair, Jeff now lives in Paris, where he is anxiously attempting to launch, along with a gaggle of other former lamestream media types, a news service that is supposed to challenge the Associated Press’s hegemony over the daily newspaper market.) Presumably, Time is so pathetically short of funds it couldn’t pop for the $200 it would take to fly Jeff down to Rome for some on-site reporting.) Instead, the article amounts to little more than an excuse for a salacious cover story as part of Time’s increasingly desperate efforts not to go the way of its erstwhile rival, Newsweek, into the proverbial dustbin of failed magazines.
To expect any MSM type to care enough about a subject to actually, you know, like read a book about it, is probably expecting too much… but this is a spectacularly egregious example of how a media person these days could actually live in Rome and not learn anything about the Vatican. Here are a few samples of what passes for analysis in the world of Time Magazine:
Vatican officials are concerned that a mea culpa would diminish the magisterium, which has been integral to the papacy’s ability to project power in the world throughout its history, from the humiliation of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at Canossa in the 11th century to the humbling of Soviet power in Poland in the 20th. It plays a key role in the doctrine of papal infallibility, which declares that the Pope is never in error when he issues teachings ex cathedra — that is, elucidating dogma from the throne of St. Peter. It is tied up in the traditional prerogatives of that Apostle, to whom was given the power “to bind and loose” in heaven and on earth — in rough terms, the church’s ability to open the gates of heaven to you or damn you to hell because it will always be holier than thou.
Classy, no? But wait! There’s more…
That mind-set has been deeply ingrained by history. The church is hard-wired with extraterritorial prerogatives that go back more than a millennium. The Catholic Church believes it is Christ’s representative on earth, with all the sinlessness and omnipotent authority of its Saviour.
The whole article goes on and on like this for 8 solid pages… column after column of undergraduate (forgive the pun) pontificating without nary a named source or piece of actual news in the entire diatribe. (Even that bastion of conservative theological opinion, the New York Times, manages to bother with reporting actual facts: See its far more balanced coverage here.) You might expect that a magazine that claims to practice journalism might include, in a major cover story on the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, a detailed analysis of what, precisely, the pope’s sins of omission and/or commission might actually be? A detailed description, say, of what then-Cardinal Ratzinger did or did not do when he was (briefly) archbishop of Munich. But as John Belushi would have said, nnnnnnoooooo…. that merits literally a single paragraph.
After all, why let reporting get in the way of an old-fashioned smear campaign against that last enemy of liberal progressivism, the Catholic Church?
Clearly, Time’s former subscribers have had enough of these fact-less exercises in essay writing. As one reader wrote:
How many more inane articles on the Catholic church will I have to endure from the nitwits that call themselves journalists at Time? Seriously, all these articles seem to prove is the mainstream media’s bias against the church and lack of understanding in regards to its teaching. give it a rest. yes…there is no excuse for the crimes committed against the innocent. sadly no institution is immune from these abuses as inexcusable as they are. but they need not be the context in which we discuss and evaluate all issues impacting the church. this tragedy is compounded when the media neglects to report the churches contributions and the truth it offers people in these uncertain times. What a loss it is when someone is searching for understanding and their hearts are closed off to the beauty of the Church’s teachings due to a skewed representation of what the Church truly is and can offer believers.
I am looking forward to the inevitable demise of Time and the other newsweeklies. They are writing themselves into irrelevance.
Another reader, Ryan Ellis, commented:
This is uninformed tripe. how many times does the church have to apologize (including this pope) for crimes which were committed generations ago? i wasn’t even alive when these crimes were taking place, and I’m old enough to have a family myself.
where’s the mention that there were six credible abuse cases in the US last year–six! do you know how many priests, religious, and laity interact with children every day? that number is far, far smaller than public schools, or virtually any other institution. while six is six too many, it’s frankly a rounding error given the scope.
i look forward to seeing time magazine’s in-depth review of the much bigger, current problem of sex abuse in public schools and prot denominations.
not holding my breath.
I took my whole family to Rome this year for Easter… and, as usual, it was an invigorating, life-affirming, faith-building experience for everyone. Rome has a way of doing that to people. I’ve been to many of the great cities of the world – from New York, London and Paris to Berlin, Athens, Cairo and Jerusalem – and none has the mystical quality to it as Rome does.
My wife agrees. Paris is beautiful… Berlin is majestic… but Rome is truly magical. Perhaps it’s the warm, spring weather, the bright blue sky that lights up the white travertine of the Colosseum. More probably, it’s the way that all of western civilization… all of our political, historical, philosophical, religious understanding… is somehow condensed, like a diamond, in the 2,000-year-old buildings that still dot the Roman landscape. You can almost hear voices from the past as you walk through the old Roman neighborhoods of Trastevere and through the city center. Even jaded, bored teenagers gawk in astonishment as they walk through the portals of Rome’s great temples, from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Pantheon. When you combine that with the intoxicating energy that flows through the Eternal City like a live wire – the youthful exuberance of a hundred different nationalities – it’s easy to see how Rome can totally change your outlook on life. I feel more alive in Rome, a lot freer. God still speaks to people in Rome. Sometimes they even hear him.
The thing is, in Rome Christianity is not a religion. It’s not even a way of life. It’s history. Family history. The good, the bad and the ugly. And all of it happened, as far as Romans are concerned, only yesterday.
I would like to briefly examine the claim, made by advocates of Neo-Darwinism and others, that advances in contemporary systems theory now give a rational explanation for the development of highly complex structures in the universe without recourse to the hypothesis of a Divine Creator.
Further, I will show that such claims, while purporting to be based on the evidence of empirical science, are, as certain postmodern philosophers of science have shown, metaphysical assertions. I will offer a few brief remarks on how advances in the mathematics of complex systems (illustrated by cybernetics and so-called chaos theory) actually can be reconciled with a theory of theistic evolution. Finally, I will discuss how the “critical realist” philosophy of the Canadian Jesuit cognitional theorist and theologian, Bernard J.F. Lonergan, offers a coherent response to the dogmatic scientism of the neo-Darwinists, on the one hand, and the simplistic “pseudo-science, relativism and nihilism” of postmodern philosophy on the other. You do not have to throw out the baby of logical coherence and rationality with the bath water (rightly critiqued by postmodern theorists) of metaphysical naturalism and scientism.
The Blind Watchmaker
Many contemporary Christians, especially those without training in mathematics, the metatheory of logic or the philosophy of science, are under the impression that the teleological argument for the existence of God has been definitively refuted by new developments in cybernetic systems theory, fractal geometry and evolutionary biology. This refutation is symbolized, in popular culture, by the widely influential book, The Blind Watchmaker, written in 1986 by the British zoologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins purports, and is purported by many others, to have delivered an analytical coup de grâce to the classic “argument from design” as formulated, for example, by the 18th century theologian William Paley. Paley argued that, just as a watch is far too complex and functional to have simply sprung into existence by chance, and so provides indubitable evidence of the existence of an intelligent watchmaker, so, too, the universe’s far greater complexity and functionality are proof of purposeful design by a Divine Watchmaker.
Au contraire, says Dawkins. The complexity and apparent functionality of the universe only give the illusion of design and planning. In reality, the intricate complexity inherent in the universe’s systems is merely the result of blind, unconscious natural forces. “There may be good reasons for belief in God, but the argument from design is not one of them,” he writes.
“Despite all appearances to the contrary, there is no watchmaker in nature beyond the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
Advanced Systems Theory and Evolution
Dawkins’s assertion, that random mutations alone explain what he calls “cumulative selection” – the gradual evolution of more and more complex biological structures – has seemingly been buttressed in recent years by rapid developments in systems theory, aided, of course, by the analytical tools used in creating new supercomputers . For our purposes, systems theory actually has two relevant components.
(1) Chaos theory, pioneered by such scientists as Edward Lorenz, is the scientific study of simple, nonlinear, dynamic systems that give the appearance of random activity but which are actually the result of simple deterministic forces. A practical example of chaos theory is fractal geometry and the study of snowflakes, which show how simple processes can give rise to apparently random variations of immense complexity.
(2) Cybernetics, developed by the Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann (d. 1957) and further developed by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine at the University of Brussels, is the scientific study of what are called “self-organizing systems.” Self-organizing systems are complex assemblies that generate simple emergent behaviors. Practical applications of self-organizing systems studies can be found in the study of cellular automata (self-reproducing systems), neural networks (artificial learning), genetic algorithms (evolution), artificial life (agent behavior), fractals (mathematical art) and physics (spin glasses).
Interestingly enough, systems theory is not really the stalwart alley that advocates of a blind, random universe believe it to be. And in fact, many Neo-Darwinist theoreticians now recognize this. The inability of Darwinist and Neo-Darwinist theories to convincingly explain the origin of life from non-life is part of the reason why “self-organizing systems” are among the hottest topics in the philosophy of science. Further, analysts who study self-organizing systems often insist that they resist reductionist explanations, indeed that the properties that emerge are not explicable from a purely reductionist viewpoint. This is why systems theory has been so enthusiastically embraced by advocates of process theology, because it provides for both a scientific study of the complex processes of nature and yet does not reject the existence of a Divine Intelligence that set these processes in motion in the first place.
In other words, systems theory, like any branch of science, can be viewed as merely the rigorous, mathematically-based description of actual processes that exist in nature. It describes precisely how these processes work themselves out in practice – simple forces giving rise to seemingly random, complex structures (chaos theory) and complex systems giving rise to simple behaviors (self-organizing systems). Neo-Darwinists want to pretend that these bare empirical descriptions alone constitute a rational explanation for the complexity of the universe, but of course that goes far beyond the scope of systems theory as an empirical, descriptive discipline.
The Philosophical Temptation
That is why, when all is said and done, Dawkins, like many scientists before him, can’t resist abandoning science for philosophy. The crux of Dawkins’ argument in favor of a blind, random universe is not, as he imagines, scientific analysis but a metaphysical assertion.
Dawkins’ rejection of theism is actually the old objection that recourse to an original “first cause” is essentially a circular argument. After hundreds of pages in which he attempts to show how the complex structures of nature are the result of natural selection and random mutation, he must, in the end, resort to a philosophical argument. “To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer,” he says. “You have to say something like, ‘God was always there,’ and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say, ‘DNA was always there,’ or ‘Life was always there,’ and be done with it.”
But Dawkins, like many scientists before him, is making a fundamental epistemological error here. The inability to explain one reality (e.g., God) does not, in and of itself, free one from the necessity of explaining other realities. If that were the case, then one should abandon science altogether. Advocates for the argument from design assert that it is illogical, and contrary to all observable phenomena, to assert that something can happen without a cause. That human beings cannot, at this stage, explain what caused God does not logically mean that we can rationally assert that things happen without a cause. If Dawkins can prove that a sophisticated robot factory exists that can produce, blindly, a perfectly made watch – and scientists and engineers can describe in detail the complex processes by which the robot factory produces these watches – that does not answer the obvious question of who or what made the robot factory. It merely begs the original question.
If anything, chaos theory and its related disciplines are only further strengthening this fundamental metaphysical axiom that all things must have a cause, showing how the apparent randomness of certain natural processes are not, in fact, random at all – but only appear to be random. Chaotic systems appear disorderly, perhaps random, but are not. Underneath their random behavior lies an order and a pattern that, with the aid of new supercomputers, can now be for the first time actually tracked mathematically. It was Lorenz’s discovery that, as his famous metaphor put it, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Ecuador may affect weather patterns in Alaska. The Alaskan weather patterns may appear random, and without cause, but that is only because of the inability of human minds to know all of the deterministic processes involved.
Advocates of Neo-Darwinism and so-called creation science rarely agree on anything, but they are often united in their contempt for what is called theistic evolution. Dawkins asserts that any attempt to bring God into the scientific picture is “transparently feeble” because “science” can show how organized complexity arises spontaneously. As we have seen, science does no such thing: It merely describes the processes by which complex systems arise, without explaining what set these processes in motion in the first place. Creationists, for their part, object that theistic evolution is, in effect, incoherent, an ungodly pact with the devil in which Christians compromise their fundamental belief in divine providence. Typically, theistic evolution is described as evolution guided by God. But, creationists argue, this is a contradiction in terms: If it is evolution, then it is a theory of change in which natural processes are governed by random chance. If it is theistic, then change occurs through divine guidance.
But this presents a false dichotomy. As some of the early “fundamentalist” theoreticians saw (A.C. Dizon, Louis Meyer, R.A. Torrey), there is nothing inherently anti-theistic in a theory of Creation by which God created the universe using evolutionary processes. Christians have long accepted the notion, in physics and chemistry, that there exist observable, seemingly deterministic laws of nature. What is the essential difference between laws which govern atomic particles and, say, the complex DNA encoding by which a single cell develops into a newborn child?
Moreover, it is not even clear, from a logical standpoint, why a theistic worldview could not accommodate elements of randomness as part of the universe’s physical processes – why, contrary to Einstein’s famous assertion, God could not play dice.
Purpose, design and planning do not, in and of themselves, rule out an element of randomness. Indeed, randomness can be part of a design and purpose. College officials may plan and organize a football game – to be played according to fixed, unvarying rules – and yet require, as part of their plan, that the first kick-off be determined by a random flip of a coin. God, for His part, could conceivably create a universe in which randomness can and does occur – not least in the free choices of spiritual beings not entirely bound by deterministic forces. In other words, even if Quantum Theory (to take one example) is somehow able to prove the existence of irreducibly probabilistic laws – in which random events simply occur apparently without a cause – that could still be seen within the boundaries of natural laws established by a Divine Creator.
This is what the Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard J.F. Lonergan set out to show in his classic work Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Lonergan thought through the implications of a shift from a classical to a statistical worldview, from a mechanistic cosmology to one in which universal order is constituted by emergent probability. Lonergan argued that a world process, governed by schemes of recurrence best described by the laws of probability, is still a world of design and purpose. Intelligence can both discern, and, ultimately, create, an underlying purpose in an aggregate of systems – a system of systems – that operate seemingly independently.
Systems theory and chaos theory have, in fact, proven Lonergan’s basic point: Systems are fundamentally “schemes of recurrence” that, while often appearing to be random, and which are best described by statistical probability, nevertheless exhibit patterns of cumulative complexity.
In the end, therefore, we begin where we started. Popularizing scientists such as Dawkins are justly proud of their new analytical tools. As a methodological starting point, science can and should proceed according to naturalistic presuppositions – lest every scientific mystery be explained away as “God does it.” The purpose of science is to describe the mechanisms discoverable in nature, to discern the patterns observable in what appears to be, to unaided human eyes, random or disorganized events. Chaos theory… and Ilya Prigogine’s self-organizing systems… have demonstrated just how unfathomably complex the processes of nature actually are.
But science, by its very nature, must recognize that its descriptive theories do not, ultimately, explain the origin of the universe. They only describe how the universe works, not how it came into existence or for what purpose. It is the task of the philosophy of religion, and systematic theology, to learn from new disciplines such as chaos theory and propose a new rational synthesis that takes into account the discoveries of these new disciplines and integrate them into classical Christian affirmations about creation. It is by no means clear that we live in a random universe, but if we do, Christian theology can show how the Creator can work His purposes through the “schemes of recurrence” of emergent probability just as He could under the old laws of classic Newtonian mechanics.
Relevance for Apologetics
Ultimately, Christian apologetics must face up to the intellectual challenges posed to it by the culture in which it is operating – and that culture, in the West at least, is dominated by increasingly sophisticated computer technologies and disciplines that call into question both the simple-minded determinism of 19th century modernist science and the “head in the sand” anti-science attitudes of postmodern “critics.” Young people, born with Nokia cell phones in their hands, and struggling with the challenges of mastering ever-more-complex technologies, know that postmodern philosophers are not serious when they deny the existence of objective facts.
Just as there are no atheists in fox holes, so, too, they are no sincere postmodern theoreticians in the cancer ward. When the postmodern theologian is sitting on the examination table, and her physician is explaining that she could have (a) a brain tumor requiring immediate surgery to save her life; or (b) a headache, requiring an aspirin, it’s a good bet that this postmodern theologian will NOT explain to the doctor that, in fact, she rejects the “foundationalist” premises of his science “practices,” that reality is really a social construct and that just because a tumor is “true for him,” it doesn’t follow that it is necessarily true for her. Instead, she will probably demand more tests – thus proving to everyone, including her students, that when push comes to shove she very much believes in objective reality over and above what she thinks about it. She even believes in absolute truth – because, if she takes an aspirin rather than undergoing surgery – and makes the WRONG choice – she will probably die. In her case, at least, the truth matters. Her life depends upon it.
In a similar way, a Christian apologetics that does not display at least as much conviction will not persuade anyone. That is why it is important that theologians today meet the challenges posed by contemporary science and not flee from them into a postmodern humanist ghetto. As I have attempted to argue in this paper, such flight is unnecessary. We have the intellectual resources to meet the challenges posed by contemporary systems theory, evolutionary biology and quantum physics. We do not have to accept either a simplistic naturalism, advocated by proponents of neo-modernism, nor a simplistic postmodern relativism and skepticism. While critiquing the excesses of 19th century modernist science, we do not have throw out the baby of truth with the bath water of scientism and naturalism.
Friends often ask me why, after all these years, we still go through the weekly ordeal of getting our large, rambunctious family off to Mass.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s an ordeal. We usually attend the 9:00 a.m. Mass because of First Communion classes taught then (our five kids range in age from 7 to 18). That means getting up early on a Sunday morning… dragging recalcitrant, barely-conscious teenagers out of bed, usually kicking and screaming… hurriedly getting dressed… searching for shoes and dresses and lost hair ribbons for the girls… nagging and kvetching and pleading and threatening… driving 10 miles to our parish church… then scurrying in, often late, to squeeze into a pew. Yet we do it… week after week, month after month, year after year. We haven’t “broken the spell,” in the words of atheist writer Daniel Dennett’s telling phrase.
In many ways, we’re lucky. We belong to a very affluent, involved parish in a nearby seaside town. The church sits on the bluff overlooking the town harbor. It’s a very modern (too modern!) church in the “theatre in the round” style with a second-story balcony that even has movie-theatre style seats usually only found in Protestant churches (and which make you feel like you’re watching an opera, not worshiping God). The pastor is a gregarious, barrel-chested man in his mid-50s who is funny and engaging, occasionally profound, and who usually keeps even the teenagers’ attention during his sermon. Assisting him are three other priests – all of them likable and smart.
I hear the stories all the time about empty Catholic churches with the proverbial little old ladies and their rosary beads, but I have to say: the masses at our parish are usually packed. Business people, surfer dudes, moms and kids, they’re all there, mingling after Mass, chatting with the priests, scarfing down donuts. They, too, somehow make the effort to get up every Sunday morning and show up.
The Catholic Mass is quite unlike a typical evangelical church service. For one thing, the sermon is rarely as polished or as long as in a Protestant church, and not given nearly as much emphasis. The music, too, can be perfunctory, although in our parish it’s actually very good and performed by dedicated professional musicians. Most obviously, the entire focus of the Catholic service is on the actual ritual of the Mass itself – an ancient series of gestures and prayers that, in its basic outline, goes back to the Last Supper and the dawn of Christianity.
In our parish church, as in most Catholic churches, the entire building focuses on two elements that draw your eyes to them: A large altar, often made of stone (conspicuously not a table!)… and, above it, an enormous crucifix (not a bare cross) with a typically gruesome and lifelike representation of Jesus dying on it. At our church, the silver crucifix above the altar is truly a work of art, enormous and lifelike, suspended directly above the altar with wires and a large steel bar connected to the ceiling.
Thus, the architecture and design of Catholic churches themselves testify to what is going on in the Catholic Mass: It is a ritualized memorial of the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. That is the entire focus and purpose of the Catholic Mass. Everything else is secondary – the scripture readings, the sermon, the extra prayers. The entire point of this ancient ritual is to memorialize, re-present and offer to God the act of self-sacrifice that Christians believe Jesus performed on the Cross. The priest reenacts the Last Supper – repeating the Words of Institution found in the scriptural accounts – but his purpose in doing so is to dramatize, as an act of worship, how Jesus consciously and willingly went to his own death.
For Catholics, in other words, the medium really is the message. The Gospel is proclaimed, not with words, but with deeds. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”(1 Cor. 11:25).
Catholics perform this ritual, not weekly, but daily – in hundreds of thousands of churches around the world, in abbeys and convents, hospitals and schools, universities and orphanages. A Mass is celebrated before, during or after virtually every significant event whenever Catholics are involved. At a wedding or funeral. At the start of a school year. At the beginning of a new legislative session.
In a sense, evangelical and atheist critics are correct: The Mass is the sole surviving example of magic in a faithless, machine-dominated world. It’s a moment of enchantment when hard-nosed businessmen and sex-obsessed teenagers alike encounter the awesome mystery of God “really present” on earth.
Whether brainwashed as Daniel Dennett says, or merely faithful to the ancient command of Christ to “do this in memory of me,” Catholic saints and sinners, skeptics and pious believers, continue to gather for this ancient rite. It is as Jesus said it would be: a way of remembering. And whatever else we do, every Sunday morning, we drag ourselves out of bed, meet with others like us, in an unbroken chain that stretches back 2,000 years in time, and remember.
“God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right, is welcome to him.” — Acts 10: 34-35
In Lumen Gentium, the Decree on the Church in the Modern World, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council forever committed the Roman Catholic Church to a belief in the possible salvation of non-Christians — even, apparently, of non-theists.
“Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet, sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is know to them through the dictates of conscience,” the Fathers declared. “Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to his grace.”
Many evangelicals, and not a few conservative Catholics, believe this teaching of Vatican II represents a dramatic change in official Catholic doctrine — a concession, perhaps, to the liberal theology of Karl Rahner or to an ecumenical movement gone berserk. They may be surprised to learn, however, that the roots of this teaching are entrenched in magisterial (that is, “official”) Roman Catholic pronouncements, go back through Trent, St. Thomas Aquinas and the medieval scholastics to Justin Martyr (c. 150) and ultimately to the New Testament itself.
Put simply: Centuries of reflection on the Biblical testimony as a whole gradually led the Catholic Church to develop a theory of salvation (explicitly rejected by the early Reformers) in which persons are saved or lost depending upon whether they trust in God (whether consciously acknowledged or not) and follow the dictates of their conscience to the best of their ability. Incredible as it sounds, the rudiments of this teaching are explicitly stated in the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent.
The New Testament clearly and explicitly teaches that those who have faith (“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” Acts 16: 30) and/or are baptized (“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you,” 1 Peter 3: 21) will be saved. And the New Testament also clearly teaches no human being will be saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But does it necessarily follow from these texts that those who do NOT have faith and are not baptized are damned? Does the New Testament teach that? Some careful readers of the New Testament are doubtful.
While it’s true that if you rob a bank you’ll be rich… it doesn’t follow logically that if you refuse to rob a bank you’ll end up poor. In other words, while it’s true that no person may be saved apart from the redemptive work of Christ, it doesn’t follow that every person must be aware of that work and have explicit faith in it. And while it’s true all those who are baptized and believe in Jesus will be saved, it’s doesn’t follow logically that all those who are not baptized and do not believe will not be saved.
Nevertheless, as a result of numerous scriptural texts that seem to emphasize the necessity of the sacraments (“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” John 6: 53), the early Fathers of the Church believed that a person could only be saved within the context of the Christian community. It was only within the body of the church that a person had access to the sacraments (baptism and Eucharist), true doctrine based on the unbroken Tradition of the apostles, and knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus.
For that reason, the early Fathers of the Church believed that membership in the body of the Church was quite obviously necessary for salvation. Augustine, ever willing to follow the “hard sayings” of the Gospel to their logical conclusions, believed that there was no salvation for unbelievers — even for those who had never had a chance to hear the Gospel preached. Augustine was aware (unlike many Christians) that there were, as he put it, “countless barbarian tribes among whom the Gospel has not been preached,” yet he believed (as would John Calvin centuries later) that a strict adherence to the teaching of the New Testament (particularly Mark 16) required the belief that all unbaptized persons were lost. Later, Augustine sought to justify this seemingly harsh view by appealing to his interpretation of the doctrine of Original Sin: All human beings stand justly condemned, even infants; and so God is not unjust if those who die without having had a chance to accept the Gospel are punished.
Medieval scholasticism and the official decrees of the Catholic Church, however, had a more nuanced view. St. Cyprian’s slogan extra ecclesiam nula sallus was given dogmatic force by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and Pope Boniface VIII’s bull Unam Sanctam (1302), but various “loop holes” were proposed for how an all-merciful God, whom scripture teaches desires “all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3),” could save even those outside the “visible” boundaries of the church and therefore who did not have access to the sacraments. Among these theoretical proposals were the concepts of “implicit faith,” “invincible ignorance” and “baptism by desire.”
St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) comes very close to Karl Rahner’s idea of the anonymous Christian in discussing the “implicit” faith of Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is saved (Acts 10). Thomas taught that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation, but, because of God’s universal salvific will, God would somehow ensure that all persons had the opportunity to believe. St. Thomas wrote: “If anyone were brought up in the wilderness or among brute animals, provided that he followed his natural reason in seeking the good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him, by an inner inspiration, what must be believed, or would send a preacher to him, as he sent Peter to Cornelius (De Veritate, q. 14, a. 11, ad 1.)” What is more, St. Thomas and later Catholic magisterial teaching would affirm that, while “without baptism there is no salvation for anyone” (Summa III, q. 68, a. 1), that baptism does not have to be the literal sacrament of water. There is a “baptism of repentance” just as there is a “baptism of blood” as well:
Consequently, a man may, without Baptism of Water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ’s Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for Him. Hence it is written (Apoc. 7:14): “These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In like manner a man receives the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only without Baptism of Water, but also without Baptism of Blood: forasmuch as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore this is also called Baptism of Repentance. Of this it is written (Is. 4:4): “If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” Thus, therefore, each of these other Baptisms is called Baptism, forasmuch as it takes the place of Baptism (Summa III, q. 66, a. 11).
The early Reformers — including Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin — were not impressed by these scholastic subtleties. They all taught that non-Christians were predestined for eternal damnation. For the Reformers, saving faith by its very nature includes an explicit acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is one’s personal Lord and Savior and a firm commitment to him. For Calvin, there mere fact that someone has not had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel is proof that God has predestined him or her for eternal damnation:
“Those, therefore, who He has created for dishonor during life and destruction at death, that they may be vessels of wrath and examples of severity, in bringing to their doom, he at one time deprives of the means of hearing his word, at another by the preaching of it blinds and stupifies them the more (Institutes III, 24, 12).”
The Reformation doctrine of total depravity meant that human beings were incapable, without an explicit faith in Christ, of fulfilling even the minimal requirements of the moral law. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther taught that the works of the righteous are, in fact, mortal sins. “Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt 23,” Luther wrote. “For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge according to appearances but searches ‘the minds and hearts.’” (Cf. Timothy F. Lull, editor, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, p. 34.) Luther added that “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.” (Ibid., p. 41)
It was precisely this view of human nature — that human beings are utterly incapable of doing anything good before justification — that the Council of Trent explicitly rejected. In Canon 7 of the Sixth Session, the Council Fathers declared: “If anyone says that all works done before justification, in whatever manner they may be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins, let him be anathema.”
Of course, both Trent and the Reformers affirmed that human beings are saved by grace through faith, and they agreed that there is nothing human beings can do to “earn” salvation from God. As the Council of Trent put it, “the sinner is justified by God by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Decree on Justification, Session 6, Chapter 6 ) The Council added that “we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, ‘if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise,’ as the Apostle says, ‘grace is no more grace.’” (Ibid., Chapter 8) Where the Catholic Church differed with the Reformers was on the question of whether it is by faith in Christ “alone” that that human beings are saved. In the Catholic view, faith was a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for salvation: There was also, as St. Paul taught, hope and love.
Not all the figures of the Reformation, of course, subscribed to the Lutheran/Calvinist view of sola fide and double predestination. James Arminius (d. 1609), and his Remonstrants followers, rejected Calvin’s views on predestination and the damnation of the unevangelized. How could a just God condemn people who had no opportunity to hear the Gospel? he asked. Later, John Wesley (d. 1791), the founder of Methodism, was even more forceful in his rejection of Calvin’s “double predestination,” which he even called a “blasphemy.” “I would sooner be a Turk, a Deist, yea an atheist, than I could believe this,” Wesley wrote.
The Tridentine teaching on justification, that it is ultimately a “cooperation” with divine grace, ultimately led the Catholic Church to adopt the view that non-Christians can be saved. This view is hardly “new” or the result of ecumenism. All this explains why, nearly 900 years after St. Thomas, and 20 years before Vatican II, the Catholic Church would officially condemn the teaching of Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J. in the 1940s in Boston. Feeney, who left the Jesuits and was officially excommunicated, taught a rigorous literal interpretation of extra ecclesiam nula sallus that insisted on the damnation of all non-Catholics. In rejecting Fr. Feeney’s interpretation of this dogma of the Church, the Vatican’s Holy Office (now renamed the more politically correct Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) declared that “this dogma is to be understood as the Church itself understands it.” That understanding, the Holy Office declared, is this: “To gain eternal salvation it is not always required that a person be incorporated in reality (reapse) as a member of the Church, but it is required that he belong to it at least in desire and longing…. When a man is invincibly ignorant, God also accepts an implicit desire, so called because it is contained in the good dispositions of soul by which a man wants his will to be conformed to God’s will.”
This remains the official teaching of the Catholic Church: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (CCC 1257).” In his encyclical Quuanto conficiamur moerore, promulgated in 1863, Pope Pius IX simultaneously affirmed the doctrine extra ecclesiam nula sallus (“outside the church, no salvation”) and taught that those “invincibly ignorant” of the Christian religion, but who cooperate with divine grace, can arrive at justification and eternal salvation. More than 100 years later, the current pontiff, Pope John Paul II, would make the identical point in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to know or accept the Gospel revelation or enter the Church…. For such people, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the church… This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”
In conclusion, it is apparent that the teaching that non-Christians can be saved is not an innovation in Roman Catholic theology, the result of radical ideas adopted by the Second Vatican Council or a misplaced ecumenical zeal. The roots for this teaching lie deep in Catholic tradition and go back all the way to the New Testament. It took centuries for the Catholic Church to think through the implications of its teaching on grace, freedom and the role of faith in the journey of salvation, but ultimately Catholicism affirmed a quite liberal understanding of how God’s grace works in the world. This view is quite opposed to the Reformation teaching on sola fide, which is that only persons with an explicit faith in Jesus Christ can be saved.
So if, as Albert Einstein insisted, Biblical religion was the necessary intellectual precondition for the gradual development of scientific method, how did the myth of the “scientific revolution” come about?
One reason: For the past 400 years, the partisans of irreligion-from the Marquis de Sade to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins-have deliberately misrepresented the way science actually developed in the West as part of their ideological crusade against Judaism and Christianity.
What’s worse, the partisans of atheism have been intellectually dishonest in the extreme: They have tried to take credit for the development of science when, in fact, they had little if anything to do with it.
Many of the most ideological and dogmatic of atheist crusaders, although continually referring to science, and seeking to use science to justify their own philosophical assumptions and declarations, were not scientists themselves.
In fact, many of the most famous anti-Christian polemicists of the last 200 years-who sought to use science to justify their unbelief-never themselves set foot in a laboratory or conducted a single field observation.
That includes the Marquis de Sade (a writer), Percy Bysshe Shelley (a poet), Friedrich Nietzsche (a philologist by training), Algernon Swinburne (a poet), Bertrand Russell (a philosopher), Karl Marx (a philosopher), Robert Ingersoll (a lecturer), George Bernard Shaw (a playwright), Vladimir Lenin (a communist revolutionary), Joseph Stalin (a communist dictator), H.L. Mencken (a newspaper columnist), Jean-Paul Sartre (a philosopher), Benito Mussolini (a fascist dictator), Luis Buñuel (Spanish filmmaker), Clarence Darrow (a lawyer), Ayn Rand (a novelist), Christopher Hitchens (a journalist), Larry Flynt (a pornographer), George Soros and Warren Buffett (investors), and Penn and Teller (magicians).
In dramatic contrast, most of the true giants of empirical science-the people who founded entire scientific disciplines or who made landmark scientific discoveries-were primarily devout Christians who believed that their scientific studies, far from being in conflict with their religious faith, ultimately was dependent upon it.
In his book, The God Delusion, atheist crusader Richard Dawkins once again tries to reclaim Einstein for atheism, citing quotations at length in which Einstein denied belief in a personal God, but the truth is that Einstein was struggling to enunciate a middle position between atheism and classic theism and couldn’t seem to make up his mind how to describe it. “There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like `God is subtle but he is not malicious’ or `He does not play dice’ or `Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?’ are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic,” Dawkins writes. “`God does not play dice’ should be translated as `Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.’ `Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?’ means `Could the universe have begun in any other way?’ Einstein was using `God’ in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense.”
Perhaps. Yet when Einstein was explicitly asked whether he believed in “Spinoza’s God”-meaning an impersonal Deistic God-this is what he said:
“I can’t answer with a simple yes or no. I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”
Not an orthodox Jew, certainly, but hardly a snide atheist ideologue along the lines of Dawkins, Chistopher Hitchens, or Sam Harris, either.
To sum up: We have two rival claims.
On the one hand, we have scientific (let’s be charitable) amateurs-from Nietzsche and Ingersoll to Chrisopher Hitchens and Sam Harris-insisting that science and Biblical religion are fundamentally incompatible.
On the other hand, you have the greatest minds in the history of science, the people who actually made most of the discoveries that created modern science to begin with-folks like Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, Max Planck, Louis Pasteur, Werner Heisenberg, and even Albert Einstein-who insist that, not only is religion not at odds with science, but Biblical religion is what made science possible in the first place.
Whom should we believe?
Should we believe the attorney Clarence Darrow, who said “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose” … or should we believe Albert Einstein who said, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind”?
Frankly, in the great debate over religion and science, faithful Christians and Jews stand with the more enlightened half – those who make the actual discoveries in science.