Lord of the World and the Death of God

As so often happens, a philosophical confluence. In the course of my more or less random reading, came across two writes, a century apart and coming at the issue from different angles, who notice the same thing. First, in Robert Hugh Benson’s wonderful and multiple-Pope-recommended 1907 novel Lord of the World, the rising English politician Oliver Brand thinks through what would nowadays be called his worldview:

As he looked from his window and saw that vast limit of London laid peaceably before him, as his imagination ran out over Europe and saw everywhere that steady triumph of common sense and fact over the wild fairy-stories of Christianity, it seemed intolerable that there should be even a possibility that all this should be swept back again into the barbarous turmoil of sects and dogmas…. Even Catholicism would revive, he told himself, that strange faith that had blazed so often as persecution had been dashed to quench it; and, of all forms of faith, to Oliver’s mind Catholicism was the most grotesque and enslaving….  There was but one hope on the religious side, as he had told Mabel a dozen times, and that was that the Quietistic Pantheism which for the last century had made such giant strides in East and West alike, among Mohammedans, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists and the rest, should avail to check the supernatural frenzy that inspired their exoteric brethren. Pantheism, he understood, was what he held himself; for him “God” was the developing sum of created life, and impersonal Unity was the essence of His being; competition then was the great heresy that set men one against another and delayed all progress; for, to his mind, progress lay in the merging of the individual in the family, of the family in the commonwealth, of the commonwealth in the continent, and of the continent in the world. Finally, the world itself at any moment was no more than the mood of impersonal life. It was, in fact, the Catholic idea with the supernatural left out, a union of earthly fortunes, an abandonment of individualism on the one side, and of supernaturalism on the other. It was treason to appeal from God Immanent to God Transcendent; there was no God transcendent; God, so far as He could be known, was man.

Later, Brand reads in the paper an account of the brave new world being ushered in by one Julian Felsenburgh, a mysterious American who is being called the Savior of the World:

“It is understood now, by fanatic barbarians as well as by civilised nations, that the reign of War is ended. ‘Not peace but a sword,’ said CHRIST; and bitterly true have those words proved to be. ‘Not a sword but peace’ is the retort, articulate at last, from those who have renounced CHRIST’S claims or have never accepted them. The principle of love and union learned however falteringly in the West during the last century, has been taken up in the East as well. There shall be no more an appeal to arms, but to justice; no longer a crying after a God Who hides Himself, but to Man who has learned his own Divinity. The Supernatural is dead; rather, we know now that it never yet has been alive. What remains is to work out this new lesson, to bring every action, word and thought to the bar of Love and Justice; and this will be, no doubt, the task of years. Every code must be reversed; every barrier thrown down; party must unite with party, country with country, and continent with continent. There is no longer the fear of fear, the dread of the hereafter, or the paralysis of strife. Man has groaned long enough in the travails of birth; his blood has been poured out like water through his own foolishness; but at length he understands himself and is at peace.

“Let it be seen at least that England is not behind the nations in this work of reformation; let no national isolation, pride of race, or drunkenness of wealth hold her hands back from this enormous work. The responsibility is incalculable, but the victory certain. Let us go softly, humbled by the knowledge of our crimes in the past, confident in the hope of our achievements in the future, towards that reward which is in sight at last—the reward hidden so long by the selfishness of men, the darkness of religion, and the strife of tongues—the reward promised by one who knew not what he said and denied what he asserted—Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, for they shall inherit the earth, be named the children of God, and find mercy.”

and Brand’s young wife Mabel,  trying to convince her dying mother in law to abandon Catholicism:

“Mother,” said the girl, “let me tell you again. Do you not understand that all which Jesus Christ promised has come true, though in another way? The reign of God has really begun; but we know now who God is. You said just now you wanted the Forgiveness of Sins; well, you have that; we all have it, because there is no such thing as sin. There is only Crime. And then Communion. You used to believe that that made you a partaker of God; well, we are all partakers of God, because we are human beings. Don’t you see that Christianity is only one way of saying all that? I dare say it was the only way, for a time; but that is all over now. Oh! and how much better this is! It is true—true. You can see it to be true!”

She paused a moment, forcing herself to look at that piteous old face, the flushed wrinkled cheeks, the writhing knotted hands on the coverlet.

“Look how Christianity has failed—how it has divided people; think of all the cruelties—the Inquisition, the Religious Wars; the separations between husband and wife and parents and children—the disobedience to the State, the treasons. Oh! you cannot believe that these were right. What kind of a God would that be! And then Hell; how could you ever have believed in that?… Oh! mother, don’t believe anything so frightful…. Don’t you understand that that God has gone—that He never existed at all—that it was all a hideous nightmare; and that now we all know at last what the truth is…. Mother! think of what happened last night—how He came—the Man of whom you were so frightened. I told you what He was like—so quiet and strong—how every one was silent—of the—the extraordinary atmosphere, and how six millions of people saw Him. And think what He has done—how He has healed all the old wounds—how the whole world is at peace at last—and of what is going to happen. Oh! mother, give up those horrible old lies; give them up; be brave.”

Written in 1907.

Next, came across the Death of  God Fifty Years On by Matthew Rose at First Things, published a year ago. In 1966, Time magazine’s cover story was entitled “Is God Dead?” This article, what we would now call click bait, created a furor. For youngsters, way back then people took magazines like Time seriously as not only purveyors of “news” but as important social and cultural barometers. Weird, huh?

Rose’s essay is very hard to excerpt, as it spins together, from paragraph to paragraph, many sources and writers to paint its picture. What follows gives some of the flavor, but it’s well worth reading the entire essay:

Altizer was taken with Nietzsche’s idea that Christianity generated its own fatal undermining. But he challenged ­Nietzsche on a critical point: It was not Christians who murdered God, but God who abolished himself. Altizer arrived at this conclusion through a controversial reading of other theologians. Among them was Karl Barth, who according to Altizer had initiated the Death of God movement. (Alasdair MacIntyre made a similar reading of the Swiss theologian in 1967.)

A central thesis of Barth’s theology is that God’s nature is bound up with his revelation in salvation history. Since we cannot know God apart from his self-revelation, argued Barth, we have true ­knowledge of the divine only through Jesus Christ. Altizer translated this claim about knowledge into a metaphysical thesis. He stipulated that God has no being apart from the historical person of Jesus. This allowed Altizer to say, with quite shocking matter-of-factness, that God is dead because he died in history, on the cross. God is incarnate in Jesus—and he dies in Jesus. “The radical Christian,” Altizer wrote in his 1966 manifesto The Gospel of Christian Atheism, “proclaims that God has actually died in Christ, that this death is both a historical and cosmic event.”

From the perspective of classical Christian ­theology, Altizer’s views can only appear nonsensical, but his understanding of God differed in fundamental ways from that tradition. Its roots were in the nineteenth-century philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, who interpreted history as the progressive realization of human freedom. Hegel’s main idea was that contradiction—or more precisely, the overcoming of contradiction—is the law of life.

His Phenomenology of Spirit told the speculative story of how human beings attain free ­self-consciousness through conflict that always leads to a higher resolution. In this history, he claimed, we learn to see historical conceptions of God as symbolic representations of the human drama of cultural ­development.

Hegel was deeply entangled with Christian theology and saw himself as preserving the spirit of Christianity rather than overturning it. He maintained, with perfect sincerity and considerable ingenuity, that his philosophy advanced a rational articulation of the teachings of the Bible. There are many twists and turns to Hegel’s philosophical re-narration of the scriptural story, but its most important claim is that God entered history in order to abolish his separation from it. History’s meaning and purpose are no longer “above,” but instead operate within the ongoing flow of human affairs. God’s coming into the world in Christ represents, symbolically, man’s coming-to-himself as the rational author of his own destiny.

The essay concludes by remarking that, while the theology of the death of God has had little academic traction, as a reflection of what was going on in the culture, however inarticulately, it was dead on.

Benson might have agreed.

Finally, how does this sort of thing metastasize across a culture? Benson gives a clue earlier in his novel. Mabel and her mother in law went to hear Oliver deliver a speech. The people gathered began to sing:

There was no doubt that these Londoners could sing. It was as if a giant voice hummed the sonorous melody, rising to enthusiasm till the music of massed bands followed it as a flag follows a flag-stick. The hymn was one composed ten years before, and all England was familiar with it. Old Mrs. Bland lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough—the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s, words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

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Weekend Update: Pizza and Luther

Hectic. Intense. Ready for a break.

But found time for some fun! On Saturday, we had a couple religious sisters over for dinner and the night (they sell books at Catholic events, were over in the East Bay from their house on the Peninsula, had some more gigs lined up in the Concord area for Sunday morning early, and didn’t want to do the drive home late, drive back early thing – if you’ve driven around here, you will be sympathetic). Took the occasion to do more wood-fired brick oven pizza! Woohoo!

One thing the interwebs in their inscrutable majesty tell us is that every brick oven is different, and one must just keep using it to learn how your particular one works. Seems ours is on the large size for a pizza oven, because I also anticipated baking bread in it, and so made it large – it’s maybe half way between a pizza oven and a smallish bread oven, size-wise. This means that heat time is longer – took about 2 hours to get the floor up to 800F, a proper temperature for Neapolitan-style pizzas.  Even then, could probably have used another 1/2 hour to really load enough heat in the 1/2 ton or so of bricks, mortar and concrete that make up the oven, to do more than a few pizzas.

But it worked! Ended up making 4 pizzas, two strictly traditional – simple flour, yeast, salt & water crusts, crushed fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and a dribble of olive oil – and two with a little more adventure to them.

At 800F, takes 2 minutes or less to cook a thin pizza. We didn’t quite make it – it cooled to a bit over 700F by the time the pies hit the bricks – so it took 3-4 minutes (That’s why I think we need that additional 30 minutes of heating).

How do I know the temps? This:

Fancy-dan laser infrared thermometer gun! My son and I were taking the temperatures of anything and anyone who wandered into rang. Just don’t shoot them in the eyes! Fun gadget – always impressed by how technology works it way down, so that I have a very sophisticated computer masquerading as a phone in my pocket – with satellite GPS uplinks and access to the WWW.  And it’s just a phone no better than that owned by hundreds of millions of people. Here, we have laser and infrared technology combined into a little plastic gadget that can measure temperature up to maybe 16′ away – for under $30, price of a medium fancy lunch.

Amazing. Life can be fun, if you let it.

Rereading Lord of the World. It stands up to and might even require rereading.

Next up, while shopping for pizza ingredients, got a call from my daughter at Thomas More College where the juniors are now reading Luther.

She was exasperated – people fell for this? Luther is completely unconvincing and is borderline incoherent much of the time!

She said that she at least expected him to be a smart guy, making somewhat sophisticated arguments. She, like her father and mother before her, had been recently reading the likes of Augustine and Thomas right before running into Luther, and so had developed a very high standard for rational argument. It’s hard, in that context, to see Luther’s arguments as much more than the logical equivalent of a monkey flinging poo: you don’t like the Church – we get it. Anyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid or both – right. Your arguments, such as they are and no matter how they torture understanding and context, are the simple and pure light of the Spirit shining through – gotcha.

So she called me to vent. She’d gotten to the reading – Christian Liberty – before her roommates, and had ranted to the empty dorm room – oh, come on! – then had the experience of hearing her roommates do the same when they got to the reading. And of course she’d grown up hearing me rant about how idiotic and vile Luther’s actual words are, as opposed to what people imagine them to be in that weird space he seems to occupy in Protestant mythology.

The hard part: realizing that the followers are sincere. Educated Catholic reactions to Luther’s arguments and claims have, from the very first, been something like: that’s utterly ridiculous! You have to cherry-pick and torture Scripture to get it to say that! You ignore all context, gloss over all history, dance around basic logical question – and then call your opponents names when they point it out! What a knucklehead!

Yet – yet – those who speak of his fiery style and manly vigor, who see him as this saint who lead the world back to real Christianity, truly do not see the ridiculousness of his arguments and claims. Educated Catholics have a very hard time arguing calmly in such an environment, where each page, each paragraph, presents another absurdity, overreach and attack on opponents.

But we must. I read an essay once by prominent Protestant theologian saying he had a hard time letting go of the beauty of the basic Protestant view of Christian life, and saw it as perfectly viable and comparable to the Catholic view – a matter of taste, as it were.

Wow. Just – wow. But he is an exception – in general, admirers of Luther follow Luther’s own example when reading Scripture when they read Luther – vast amounts of authority and value are given to certain selected passages, while the bulk of Luther’s writings are explained away or simply ignored in light of those cherry-picked passages.

So: I’m going to redouble my efforts to by sympathetic to Lutherans and their Protestant brethren who take Luther seriously enough to have read some of him. I’ll try to listen, and hear where they’re coming from. THEN I’ll start quoting Luther back to them! BUWAHAHA!

No, wait – I’ll be even more patient. I’ll try to plant one little seed – and then shut up, and leave it to God. Because, frankly, this is hard.

Then there’s the rank and file – people who have read little or no Luther, and so imagine him, based on reputation alone, to be sweetness and light itself. They, like the bulk of Lutherans since before Luther’s body was even cold in the grave, more or less ignore most of what he said without even being aware of it. His Bondage of the Will teaches a predestination that is every bit as extreme  as Calvin’s – yet Lutherans don’t typically talk like Calvinists in this regard. For example.

In one of those odd confluences so typical of Real Life(tm), on Catholic Radio this morning was an interview with a bunch of converts from Lutheranism and Protestantism in general who are recently back from taking a tour of Germany to visit the various sites associated with Luther. Needless to say, they were not your typical such tourists. As converts from the mish-mash fathered by Luther, they were much more prepared than I would have been to engage – and they, by the accounts they gave, were at least as brutal as I would have been.

One point one the guys made to a tour guide at a Luther museum: 60% of the people of Germany claim to be irreligious. Well? If Luther were such a positive religious influence, why have the sheep so relentlessly fled the fold, rejecting any fold? When the guide answered that it was Communism, he replied that Poland, right next door, suffered at least as much as Germany did under the Communists – yet, united in their Catholic faith, they remain a strongly religious people. Strong enough to lead the way throwing out the Reds.

So, there is that. I, on the other hand, have to reign in my tongue. Fortunately, I suppose, have not had occasion to discuss Luther with any of his admirers for a number of years now.

The Everlasting Man: Bay Area Chesterton Society Reading Group

My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.

Reading groups of the local instantiations of the American Chesterton Society have often, I’m told, focused on shorter works, as they are trying to have a discussion over dinner involving people of quite varied ages and backgrounds. So Fr. Brown Mysteries and selections from this awesome and highly recommended collection of essays and similar shorter readings have most often been the works under discussion.

However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.

July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here.  In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).

As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.

Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.”  Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.

So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.

Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:

Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”.[1] Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations[2] and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.[3] The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”,[4] Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”.[5] As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.

Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:

Wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Fabians, like Gramsci and Alinsky and all their spawn, believe in doing whatever it takes to promote the agenda. Truth be damned in the name of Progress.

To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.

In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregis and Lamentabili sane exitu in 1907, and his Oath in 1910.

This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in  In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.

The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting.  A real philosopher must consider Becoming.  What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.

Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment.  He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)

In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get.  Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.

Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.

Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.

Chesterton’s goal:

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.

Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.

Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”

  1. What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do!  Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.

A Thought on Eternal Evil

Eternity is not just more time, in a sense similar to how  God is not just a bigger cause. As God is the Cause of causes – the Unmoved Mover, in classic Greek philosophy, wherein, in Christian theology, all created things live and move and have their being – eternity is that within which time takes place. Eternity is more than the sum of all time.

This has implications for redemption and repentance. We, bounded by time, find it strictly unimaginable (strictly, since our acts of imaginations are realized over time) that a creature could act eternally. Angels are such creatures. We, having been given eternal life, are also such creatures, though we haven’t (in both senses of that word) realized it yet.

Image result for the fall of luciferWhen we talk of the fall of Satan and a battle in Heaven, we are speaking about events that take place (if that’s a meaningful way to say it) in eternity – they are not something that happened in the past. Satan is falling now, has fallen in the past, will continue to fall in the future – that’s how events in eternity necessarily look to us living in time, like seeing a 2-dimensional slice of a three dimensional figure, and trying to imagine the figure – only it’s worse, since eternity is not just the sum of a bunch of snapshots of time.

People sometimes wonder if Satan or any human in Hell can repent and be saved. If eternity were just more time, then that would be an interesting question. But if eternal acts are eternal, there is no ‘later’ in which to reconsider or be redeemed. This will be our fate once we realize, in the sense of make real to our own eyes, our eternal nature. This is why saints, as they start to see God, are mortified by their slightest fault – becoming more Christ-like is also becoming more aware of their own eternal nature, and how their sins tend to become eternal as a result.

So here’s the mind-bender: Satan and his angels knew all this. Their ‘act’ in falling away from God included all the temptations, manipulations, possessions and horrors by which we see evil unveiled over time – and their defeat at the hands of Christ. All these acts took place at once, as it were, as it was, is now and ever shall be. The fall of the angels IS the evil they work in the world and our lives. There was no ‘before’ Satan fell, and no ‘after’. He is falling now; he is rejecting God now; he is hating us with a white-hot passion now. And he will be doing all this for ever – for all eternity.

The fallen angels knew all this, saw how it worked out to their own destruction and pain, and rejected God anyway.

Christianity proposes we all get to make eternal decisions, that there comes a point where we pass from time within which one can change one’s mind, to eternity, where knowledge and decisions are complete.

Being Rash for Christ

When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.

A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects,  I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.

Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:

Feasts and Faith: Continuing Catholic Education Continue reading “Being Rash for Christ”

Music at Mass Review: October 26, 2014

(Already beat this song up here, but it clawed its way out of the ground to eat more brains, so here we go again.)

So, what say you to starting a Catholic Mass with a little ditty by this fellow? From the English & Dutch (responsible for the funky Google English) Wikipedia sites:

In 1954, inspired by Che Guevara who said that churches have the potential to transform the social structure of society,[3] Oosterhuis combined his priesthood with political activism.

Che – now, there’s a guy to model one’s Christian response to the world on. Another proponent of the ever-popular theory that if you just kill enough of the flexibly-defined bad people, the world will be great! If the world isn’t great, you haven’t killed enough of the bad people – maybe the definition of ‘bad’ isn’t broad enough? This leads me to wonder about the former Fr. Oosterhuis’s level of mental acuity.

In 1969 the deleted Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe Oosterhuis from the order after conflicts of celibacy . For the same reason the suspended diocese of Haarlem him as a priest.

I think we can suss out the gist of the nub there. Whoa – imagine what you’d have needed to do to get expelled from the Jesuits in 1969. Boggles. Further,

Oosterhuis and his team decided with the vast majority of their congregation from then beyond the responsibility of the Bishop of Haarlem to proceed. In 2014, the now 80-year-old Oosterhuis still pastor within thisekklesia , albeit now in the shelter; the seven teammates when, all now ex-Jesuits, pulled out for various reasons soon off.

So our man takes a bunch of Jesuit buddies, declares himself “beyond the responsibility” of the bishop, and runs his own little parish-thing, at least until he was “in shelter”. And his buddies all left him. It’s almost like one can’t expect a Jesuit to stick to something.

He also stated that they no longer believe in interviews in a personal God, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the miracles of the Gospels, the atonement and original sin.

Is that all? Well, at least he was good to the people around him, right?

On 25 April 1970 Huub Oosterhuis joined in civil marriage with the young nurse Josefien Melief . They had two children musical, composer Tjeerd and singer TrijntjeOosterhuis, who initially acted together as the duo Total Touch. The civil marriage ended in a divorce , after Oosterhuis and Melief went separately living near the children. Oosterhuis is married to journalist Colet van der Ven .

So once he escaped the evil influences of the Church, he married, bred, divorced and remarried. Not that that kind of behavior has any downside on the people involved, like say children.

Now, of course it would be mean spirited to imagine that the enormous theological, liturgical, ecclesiastical and personal tire fire the former Fr. Oosterhuis has made of his life would bleed over into his liturgical music. Nope, all that could possibly leak through would be his unbounded love of the not at all divine Jesus who stayed buried and died for no reason at all. So we should expect sweetness and light, right?

So here’s the ditty: What is This Place? We’ll intersperse comments in red: 

Verse 1

What is this place, where we are meeting?

First, if you’re at Mass, it should be pretty clear, usually, where we are meeting. So, we’re talking rhetorical question here? Why yes, yes we are: 

Only a house, the earth its floor.

Well, no. A church is a sacred space, made sacred not only by our gathering there in Christ’s name, but most especially due to His Real Presence. This sanctification of place is such a basic and inevitable outcome of the Incarnation that the liturgical calendar even has feast days for the dedications of various important churches. Places, like people, play a role in salvation history. 

Walls and a roof, sheltering people,

Windows for light, an open door.

Nothing special, an attitude evinced in almost all modern churches. 

Yet it becomes a body that lives

When we are gathered here,

It lives! As the cross vaults lumber down the alleys, seeking victims to slake its blood thirst… OK, maybe not ‘lives’ like that. But we have established to dependencies: Each time we gather, we make the church building live. Without us, it is dead. . 

And know our God is near.

A God no Unitarian would object to. 

Verse 2

Words from afar, stars that are falling.

Sparks that are sown in us like seed;

Names for our God, dreams, signs and wonders

Sent from the past are all we need.

Too much LSD in the 60s, clearly. Coherency is so overrated! But the gist of the nub: Words are all we need. That, and like totally trippy images. 

We in this place remember and speak

Again what we have heard:

God’s free redeeming word.

Trouble is, I don’t think even the Lutherans would want this guy, even with the Sola bone he throws them here. 

Verse 3

And we accept bread at his table,

Broken and shared, a living sign.

Here in this world, dying and living,

We are each other’s bread and wine.

Shockingly, it turns out to be all about us! Imagine my surprise. His rejection of the Real Presense managed somehow to sneak through! Who, oh who, could have guessed this would happen? 

This is the place where we can receive

What we need to increase:

Our justice and God’s peace.

*Our* justice? Is this a Che reference? Because God’s justice might just barely differ from ours, maybe. But hey, we acknowledge that we need God’s peace – that’s something! At least, we finally got around to admitting we need something. 

This was the entrance hymn at today’s Mass. I looked for the choir director who chooses the music, just to register my polite disagreement with using this song anywhere within a mile of Mass or anything catholic at all – but he wasn’t there this week.

Next time. Dear God, please let there not be a next time!

Both/And – The Prison of a Single Idea

(Another half-thought-out idea that I’m trying to give form to. You’ve been warned. Also will be discussing math while using as little math as possible – just a reckless thrill-seeker, me.)

One of the things it becomes important to know when building models of the physical world turns out to be the slope at a point on a curve. It represents the rate of change at that point for the function that describes the line. (Newton would have made it into the Math & Science Hall of Fame on the strength of having figured out how to determine the slope at a point on a curve if that’s all he did; he and Leibniz share a wing for this.)

How you do it requires a wee leap, because the very logic that compels you to agree that the first derivative is the slope is based on an equation that inconveniently negates itself right when you need it most. Let’s see how that works.

Here is that equation for a secant, a line that connects two points on a curve:

The slope of the secant is the average rate of change over the curve between the two end points of the secant.

Newton and Leibniz noticed that, as you bring the two end-points closer together, you get a slope that’s closer and closer to the slope *at* either of the points – so, if you wanted to know the slope at a point, you could get real close by making the end-points as close as you want.

But you just can’t make the end-points the same point – if there’s no distance between them, then the formula becomes y – y over  x – x, which is just  0/0 – which is not a slope, and in fact is scary enough that mathematicians (at least, the ones I understand)  will say that it is ‘undefined’.

So you just can’t find the slope of the tangent by solving the secant equation for a single point. The math falls apart.

Just so, you can’t solve for free will using God’s omnipotence and omniscience as your formula – that resolves to 0/0, too – undefined.

But saying that God’s omniscience and omnipotence preclude free will for any creatures is a bit like saying that, because we can’t use the slope for a secant formula to solve for the slope at a point, the tangent doesn’t exist. The question should be: does the tangent exist? If it does, then the failure of our formula only means that we can’t use it in this case – we must use some other approach. Formulas do not prove or disprove existence.

Bishop Berkeley (if I’m recalling correctly – it’s been almost 40 years) did argue at the time that the calculus was nonsensical as math, and had no claim on an honest man’s acceptance, because, right where you expect a proof, it starts getting all philosophical and talking about limits and infinitesimals and other mythical creatures. And he’s right, up to a point – the way math had progressed so far seems free of such fantastic doodads. Why we should trust something whose proof requires us to imagine never before imagined things* is at least debateable.

Yet, we know the tangent exists and has a slope – we just can’t get at it directly using that formula.

angle with a tangentSo, how about we show the tangent on a point on a curve exists and has a slope we can know in a special case, then see, once we’re convinced, if we can get to the calculus from there? Here is a tangent to a point on circle.  A circle is just a special curve with an interesting property: all points on a circle lie exactly the same distance from the center. That distance is called a radius.

Here, we show a tangent to a circle, and indicate that it is at a right angle to the radius. Now, a nice reductio proof can be whipped up in a minute or two to show that the tangent must only touch one point, and must be at a right angles to the radius from the tangent point. We’re going to skip that. Instead, I’ll just mention that, for circles anyway, we can use a formula and our knowledge of angles to figure out what the slope is for any tangent to the circle we chose.

The important point: we know that tangents to the special case curve called a circle exist, and we know that we can figure out their slopes with a tidy formula. So, it’s reasonable from what we know about curves and tangents to believe that there might be a tangent with a knowable slope to points on curves that aren’t circles even when we may not have a tidy, non-calculus formula to find them with.

It turns out that the slope of the secant formula used above works fine on circles, and that we can figure out the slope at the tangent independently – 90 degrees to the radius. And, best of all, if we use infinitesimals and limits, we get the same answer we get from geometry.  So, now we have something – a reason to trust Newton and Leibniz when they say the calculus works.

So, do we see reasons to believe free will exists? Yes. It’s certainly the constant subjective experience of mankind. But is free will objectively true? We’ll leave it here for now, with the notion that just because one argument can be presented in such a way as to contradict what we otherwise think is true doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story/

* Well, OK, there’s Zeno. But not imagined in exactly this way. I think.